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This is for all those interested in the interpretation of statutes, regulations, and contracts.

What does the word "so" mean? See 18 USC 1030, Fraud and related activity in connection with computers, which reads in part as follows:

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(a)Whoever—(1) having knowingly accessed a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access, and by means of such conduct having obtained information that has been determined by the United States Government pursuant to an Executive order or statute to require protection against unauthorized disclosure for reasons of national defense or foreign relations, or any restricted data, as defined in paragraph y. of section 11 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation willfully communicates, delivers, transmits, or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted, or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it;

(2)intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains—

(A) information contained in a financial record of a financial institution, or of a card issuer as defined in section 1602(n) [1] of title 15, or contained in a file of a consumer reporting agency on a consumer, as such terms are defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.);

(B) information from any department or agency of the United States; or

(C) information from any protected computer...

* * *

(e)As used in this section—

* * *

(6) the term “exceeds authorized access” means to access a computer with authorization and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter...

 

Emphasis added. Note, in the boldfaced passage, the word "so" in red.

Violators can be fined or imprisoned for up to 10 years.

A cop named Van Buren used his access to a vehicle license data base to get information for someone in return for $5,000, a violation of police department policy. It was an FBI sting operation. Van Buren was convicted and sentenced to 18 months. He appealed, based on interpretation of the statute. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him in 2019. He appealed to the Supreme Court. 

On June 3, 2021, the Supreme Court issued a 20-page 6-3 decision. Much of the decision is devoted to the significance of the word "so." The decision was written by Justice Barrett. Justice Thomas wrote a 13-page dissenting decision. The decision reversed a 2019 decision by the 11th Circuit.

The decision is Van Buren v. United States, 593 U.S. ____ (2021), and it's available at the Court's website.

Must reading for anyone interested in legal interpretation.

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For ease of finding - 19-783 Van Buren v. United States (06/03/2021) (supremecourt.gov).

Not going to lie, the conversation is WAY above my head. 

Quotes from the Dissent:

@ 1

“The majority offers no real response. It notes that “entitled” is modified by “so” and that courts must therefore consider whether a person is entitled to use a computer to obtain information. Ante, at 10. But if a person is not entitled to obtain information at all, it necessarily follows that he has no “right to access the information by using a computer.” Ante, at 9. Van Buren was not entitled to obtain this information at all because the condition precedent needed to trigger an entitlement—a law enforcement purpose—was absent.”


@ 2

“Next, the majority’s reading is at odds with basic principles of property law. By now, it is well established that information contained in a computer is “property.” Nobody doubts, for example, that a movie stored on a computer is intellectual property. Federal and state law routinely de[1]fine “property” to include computer data. E.g., 12 U. S. C. §5433; N. Y. Penal Law Ann. §155.00 (West 2010). And even the majority acknowledges that this statute is designed to protect property. Ante, at 2. Yet it fails to square its interpretation with the familiar rule that an entitlement to use another person’s property is circumstance specific.

Consider trespass. When a person is authorized to enter land and entitled to use that entry for one purpose but does so for another, he trespasses. As the Second Restatement of Torts explains, “[a] conditional or restricted consent to enter land creates a privilege to do so only in so far as the condition or restriction is complied with.” §168, p. 311 (1964). The Restatement includes a helpful illustration: “3. A grants permission to B, his neighbor, to enter A’s land, and draw water from A’s spring for B’s own use. A has specifically refused permission to C to enter A’s land and draw water from the spring. At C’s instigation, B enters A’s land and obtains for C water from the spring. B’s entry is a trespass.”

 

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I noticed in the decision reference to several different dictionaries such as Oxford English Dictionary, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Random House Dictionary of the English Language, etc.  I would take from this that when considering the use of a word you may need to research several different dictionaries. 

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See FAR 1.108(a):

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Words and terms. Definitions in part 2 apply to the entire regulation unless specifically defined in another part, subpart, section, provision, or clause. Undefined words retain their common dictionary meaning.

For several years now, I have told students to include a Section H clause like the following in their contracts.

"Definitions. See the clause at 52.202-1, Definitions (June 2020). Ordinary English words and terms in this contract—excluding legal terms, technical terms, and terms of art, if not defined in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) or otherwise in this contract, or if defined in FAR or this contract in only a specific context, shall be interpreted as defined in _______________________."

Fill in the blank with your preferred English dictionary. My current personal favorite is the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed.

Courts tend to refer to Webster's Third or to collegiate dictionaries when it comes to ordinary words. They will often refer to more than one dictionary. But they will refer to a dictionary cited in the contract for that purpose. They also refer to specialty ("technical") dictionaries.

 

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Yes, great suggestion Vern.  Too often we are so involved preparing solicitations, evaluating responses, making source selections, worrying about protests, etc., we overlook post-award details and potential issues.  This is one of things that gets slighted until it comes up and then we say “if only we ....”

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