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Could legal computer actions be criminalized?

While they hardly ever garner headlines, the prosecution of computer crimes has grown exponentially over the past five years. This should not be surprising considering how online commerce has revolutionized the way we do business in the United States and across the world. Because of this, so many more computers are connected through the Internet, and so many more potential victims are at risk.

At the same time, outdated federal statutes dealing with computer crimes may criminalize otherwise legal actions. This post will include the most common statutes that alleged hackers could be prosecuted under.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – Committing fraud through a computer should seem straightforward. Unfortunately, the plain language in this statute may seem confusing because of the strained definition of what type of computer access or actions can be criminalized.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act – This statute is often referred to when combating the “pirating” of copyrighted music and movies. Essentially, if you circumvent the protections meant to preserve copyright in order to obtain or distribute the work, you can be prosecuted. Of course, there are questions surrounding what constitutes an illegal act under this statute.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act – This law protects against the use of wiretaps, pen registers and stored communications. More importantly, it is used to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens against unauthorized collection and use, and it is commonly referenced in actions where consumer privacy is breached.  

If the actions prohibited under these laws seem confusing, you are certainly not alone. A person unfamiliar with these statutes could be easily coerced into providing authorities with information they would not be entitled to, or pleading guilty to other (unrelated) crimes under the threat of facing a long prison sentence.

An experienced white collar crimes attorney can help protect against threats and intimidation. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can craft a defense by thoroughly analyzing the charges and the alleged illegal actions. A strong defense can also change the prosecution’s negotiating posture and lead to charges being reduced or dropped altogether.

The preceding is not legal advice. If you have questions about your rights and options after being charged with a computer crime, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you.  

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