Computers and the internet have ingrained themselves as such an
indelible part of modern society that it isn't surprising how often
they're used to commit crimes. Computer and internet crimes run the
gamut from identity theft to computer fraud and computer hacking. States
and the federal government have laws that criminalize various types of
behavior involving computers, computer systems, and the internet, and
each has its own requirements and potential penalties.
are a number of offenses which can fall under the category of “computer
crime.” Any crime that either targets a computer, or in which someone
uses a computer to commit a crime, falls into this category. State
computer crime laws differ widely, and when a person uses a computer to
commit a crime, that crime may be covered under several different state
or federal laws.
- Unlawful use or access. Some
states have laws that make it a crime to use or access a someone else's
computer without permission or authority. This type of crime includes
instances where a person physically accesses someone else's computer,
gains access electronically, or uses a virus to gain access. These laws
are often used in computer hacking cases where someone gains access to
someone else's computer without permission.
- Access for fraudulent purposes.
Other states have laws that punish using a computer to accomplish a
fraudulent act. Some states, for example, make it a crime to use a
computer, computer software, or computer network to fraudulently obtain
goods or services of any kind.
- Data theft. Even
if you're allowed to use or access a computer, you can still commit a
computer crime if you access, copy, damage, or alter information you
don't have permission to use. Some states provide additional penalties
in cases where the data theft resulted in damage, while less severe
penalties apply for thefts which did result in data being damaged,
altered, or destroyed.
- Child pornography. It's
a crime to make, possess, or transmit images that portray child
pornography. All 50 states, as well as the federal government, have laws
which prohibit keeping pornographic images of children. There are also
laws which prohibit transmitting harmful materials to children. “Harmful
materials” include sexual or pornographic images that may be legal for
adults to view, but which are harmful to, or inappropriate for,
computer crimes cover a wide range of activity, internet crime laws
punish activity that specifically involves the internet in some way.
These laws apply to emails and websites, as well as using the internet
to commit identity theft or other forms of fraud. Like computer crimes,
both individual states and the federal government have laws that apply
to internet crime.
- Luring or soliciting children.
Nearly all states have laws that make it a crime to use the internet to
solicit, lure, or entice a child to engage in a sexual act. These laws
apply when a person aged 18 or older uses the internet to communicate
with a child. The age limit of a child for the purposes of these laws is
usually 16. However, a person can violate these laws as long as they
believe the person they're talking to is 16 or younger, even if the person is actually an adult.
- Harassment, stalking, and bullying. Various
states have enacted laws which criminalize using the internet to stalk,
harass, or make criminal threats against someone. State stalking laws
typically require that the threats made must be credible, but a state's
harassment laws may also punish internet communications intended to
threaten or harass even if the threat is not credible. Recently, some
states have enacted cyber bullying laws which criminalizes harassment
aimed specifically towards minors.
- Other laws and new laws. There
are any number of federal and state crimes that may also apply in
computer and internet criminal cases. Federal wire fraud, for example,
can apply to any case where a person uses a computer or electronic
communications device to fraudulently deprive someone else of property.
As computers and the internet continue to change and proliferate,
legislatures regularly introduce new criminal laws which apply to
internet and computer use.
there are numerous different types of computer and internet crimes,
there are also a wide range of potential penalties. Some computer crimes
have minor penalties associated with them, while more serious crimes
can impose significant fines and lengthy prison sentences.
Fines for a conviction of various computer and internet crimes range
widely. A misdemeanor conviction can result in relatively minor fines of
a few hundred dollars, and possibly up to a $1,000 or more, while
felony convictions can have fines that exceed $100,000.
- Jail or prison.
A person convicted of certain internet or computer crimes may also face
a jail or prison sentence. The most serious crimes, such as possessing
child pornography, can result in a prison sentence of 20 years or more.
Probation sentences for computer crimes are also possible as either
individual penalties or in addition to jail or fines. Probation terms
can differ widely, but typically last at least one year and require the
person on probation to not commit more crimes, maintain employment,
report to a probation officer, and pay all court costs and fines.
Talk to an Attorney
accused of a computer or internet crime is very serious. Even if you're
never convicted you can lose your job and suffer the stigma of being an
accused criminal. Computer and internet crimes can be very complicated,
involving numerous laws, evidentiary issues, and extensive government
investigations. Anytime you're charged with a computer crime you face
the vast resources of the state or federal government. Your best defense
against those powers is to find a qualified, experienced criminal
defense attorney in your area. Whether you're facing state or federal
criminal charges, a local defense attorney will be able to provide you
with legal advice based on the facts of your case and the law. You need
an attorney who has knowledge of the local courts, police, and
prosecutors, and who can help you at every stage of your case.