COMPUTER FRAUD AND ABUSE ACT
With the sharp increase of use of computers and digital information around the world, our law firm has seen the rise of United States Department of Justice investigations and prosecutions of alleged violations of computer hacking legislation. Even though there are multiple different federal criminal laws that can apply to allegations of computer hacking and cybercrime, most federal prosecutors focus on just a few of the computer crime laws.
What Does the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. §1030) Regulate?
By and large, computer hacking offenses are prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. §1030). This legislation covers a range of computer crimes and has been used quite aggressively by the government in recent years.
In essence, the requirements for prosecution under this statute are that the computer is a “protected computer” and that the accused accessed that computer “without authorization.” In light of recent amendments to this law, the government defines these terms very broadly.
For the purposes of the law, the term “protected computer” is not reserved only for computers that belong to a government agency. In actuality, any computer that is connected to the internet can be considered protected. By that definition, a person’s computer that is provided by their employer, a computer at the public library, or other electronic devices that have internet access would be included.
The term “without authorization” also covers a broad swath of scenarios. An individual who has authorization to use a certain computer could nonetheless be prosecuted under this law if the person’s use of the computer “exceeds authorization” or if they use the computer for some “improper purpose.” In some situations, a person is granted access to a work computer for specified purpose and then uses that computer to engage in activity that is not approved. They may play fantasy football on the work computer, for example. Such persons can arguably be prosecuted under this law.
Criminal Prosecutions for Computer Fraud and Abuse
The majority of criminal prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act come under one of the following categories:
- Procuring National Security Information
- Unauthorized Access of any Protected Computer
- Trespassing in Relation to Government-Owned Computers
- Unauthorized Access with Intent to Defraud (this includes internet fraud and “phishing”)
- Damaging a Computer or the Information Therein
- Trafficking Computer Passwords with the Intent to Defraud
- Posing a Threat of Damage to a Computer
Computer Fraud and Abuse Conspiracy
In scenarios involving alleged violations of computer hacking laws, the government will also prosecute anyone who is attempting or conspiring to take part in any of this type of activity. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act contains a provision that specifically addresses attempt and conspiracy.
CAN-SPAM Act 18 U.S.C. §1037
The intention of the CAN-SPAM Act is to prosecute those who distribute large amounts of unsolicited commercial email (“spam”). A variety of different civil and criminal penalties are possible under this law. The punishment generally depends on the amount of “spam” delivered or how it was used.
Unlawful Access to Stored Communications 18 U.S.C. §2701
Another law that is occasionally used in “computer hacking” cases is the protection against unlawful access to stored communications. This law punishes people who use a computer to access another person’s “electronic communication service” or wherever the person has their email or voicemail stored. As long as the unauthorized access to a person’s voicemail or email was committed for profit or financial gain, then it is a felony.
The term “cyberstalking” generally refers to the use of a computer or other electronic device to threaten or harass another person.
Prosecutions of “cyberstalking” are increasing rapidly across the country as more and more people are relying upon electronic devices for everyday communication. “Cyberstalking” can include offensive communications or those which threaten someone with physical harm.
When a computer is used to communicate threats that involve sexual conduct, it is often referred to as “sextortion” and can be prosecuted under federal law. Repeated email or other electronic communications to harass another individual can be considered “internet stalking” and also prosecuted under federal law.
Federal legislation also expressly forbids “stalking” as conduct that is meant to injure, harass or intimidate another individual (18 U.S.C. §2261(A)). Some “cyberstalking” cases get prosecuted under a law that is designed to prohibit harassing or obscene phone calls or computer messages (47 U.S.C. §223). This statute covers the use of text messages, chats or any other interactive software or app that allows people to communicate with each other over the internet.
Seasoned Computer Fraud and Abuse Defense Lawyers
Our computer fraud and abuse defense attorneys have successfully represented people charged in federal criminal cases across the United States and in several foreign countries. We are experienced in handling complex computer crimes and have access to top forensic experts and investigators who help us defend our clients in these complicated and often very serious cases.
Most of our clients call on us as soon as they become aware that they could be the target of a cybercrime investigation. If our firm is retained early in the case, we are often able to discuss our client’s defenses with the prosecutor before any formal criminal charges are filed. If there is any question about a search warrant or other investigative tool used by the prosecution, we could possibly prevent the client from ever being prosecuted or arrested.
Our firm also helps clients are looking for a “second opinion” regarding the strength of the government’s case, or to get a second look at the computer evidence that the government is intending to use against the person. We can impart our expertise in cybercrime investigations and prosecutions with the client and their current attorney. Then, we step in and help them make what is often a life-changing decision about accepting a proposed plea deal or taking the case to trial.
In addition to assisting our clients win favorable resolutions or “not guilty” verdicts in federal computer crime cases, we also assist clients in federal criminal appeals, sentencing hearings and grand jury investigations involving connected allegations.
If you or someone you know is has been charged with a “computer hacking” offense or is facing allegations of “cyberstalking” or any type of federal computer crime, give us a call for you free counseling.