Much like the prevalence of the telephone led to statutory wire fraud law, so has the emergence of the Internet led to laws regarding “computer crimes.” While broadly defined, it is important to know exactly what is and is not a computer crime. Many existing crimes can be perpetrated with a computer and still fall under their respective criminal categories; for example, using a computer to launder money, or physically stealing a computer. However, under such notable statutes as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as the USA Patriot Act, an entirely new type of criminal offense is created.
A computer may be the object, subject, or instrument of the crime. In the case of a computer as the object of the crime, consider a computer network that is the target of denial of service attacks or some other malicious virus. As for a computer being the subject of crime, this could occur when the computer is the physical location of the stolen property, for example, proprietary data. Finally, in the case of a computer as the instrument of a crime, consider a computer being used to facilitate the misappropriation of proprietary information while maintaining its digital form.
Under the current law, a “protected computer” is one used exclusively by the United States or a financial institution, or one used partially by either of these two where the offense affects their ability to use the computer. Also protected are any computers used in interstate or foreign commerce or communications. With the advent of “networked” computer systems, nearly any computer falls under this broad definition of a “protected computer,” and thus could be involved in the commission of a computer crime.
The substantive prohibitions section of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act effectively outlaw the following activities; unlawful access and transmission of government information; obtaining information from protected computers; unlawful access of a government computer; fraud or theft through a protected computer; transmission of programs, information, or commands to cause damage; trafficking in computer passwords; computer extortion; and finally, attempting or conspiring to commit any of the aforementioned acts.
Violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act carry widely ranging, six-tier sentencing guidelines which vary according to the nature of the offense and intent of the perpetrator. Every computer connected to a communications line, including the Internet, is now covered by the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
If you find yourself facing criminal charges, it is important to find an experienced white collar attorney to represent you. The attorneys of Parkman White, LLP have a history of success in the court room and are ready to represent clients nationwide.