As the internet and computers gain an increasingly important role in our daily lives, there is a similar rise in the prevalence of computer, internet and cyber crime. While technology quickly evolves, the laws intended protect and prevent crimes are slower to adapt. The relative anonymity the computer provides, combined with the ability to contact millions of people and access untold data can tempt many people into doing things they would not otherwise do in their daily life.This can lead to many people unknowingly or unwittingly finding themselves on the wrong side of the law for accidental or unintended cyber crime violations.
What Are Cyber Crimes?
Cyber crimes or internet crimes can include a wide number of activities and criminal actions. This can include any actions that interfere with the normal operations of computer systems, such as hacking, unauthorized access or releasing viruses. Additionally, many crimes that would have been perpetrated in years past either in person, or by telephone or mail been adapted to commission through the internet. This includes:
Solicitation for Prostitution
Harassment and Stalking
Federal Internet Crime Charges
Many computer crimes can violate both state and federal laws. In fact, using a computer to perpetrate a crime can almost always be a federal offense because the internet is considered a tool of interstate commerce. Because the internet has a national and worldwide reach, simply proving that a computer used in a crime was connected to the internet may be enough for it to be considered a federal computer crime, even where there is only a "minimal nexus" to interstate commerce. However, cases invoking federal jurisdiction are generally limited to cases with a compelling federal interest.
There are a number of federal laws which involve computer or internet crimes. These include the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), Wiretap Act, Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act, and others. The CFAA protects federal computers, bank computers, and any other computers connected to the internet from trespassing, threats, damage, espionage and corrupt fraudulent use.
Federal crimes are prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Proceedings take place in a federal court, before a federal judge, and any jail time is served in a federal penitentiary. Penalties for federal computer crime violations vary greatly on the type of activity. For example, hacking into government computers could result in 1 year in prison for a first offense, and a fine up to $100,000, while computer copyright infringement can carry a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Computer Crimes in Massachusetts
The underlying criminal actions involved in computer crimes can also be punished under state law. Money laundering crimes committed through a computer can be charged and prosecuted under the state's money laundering laws; cyber stalking can be charged and prosecuted under the state's stalking laws; and online child exploitation crimes can be charged under state child abuse laws.
There are also a number of specific computer crime violations at the state level. Under Massachusetts law, whoever, with the intent to defraud, obtains any commercial computer service by false representation, unauthorized access, by tampering with or installing any equipment or other means, can be imprisoned by up to 2 ½ years, and fined up to $3,000. Anyone who helps another to commit this crime can be similarly punished.
Whoever, without authorization, knowingly accesses a computer by any means not authorized shall be punished by imprisonment for up to 30 days, with up to a $1,000 fine.
Investigating and Prosecuting Cyber Crime Charges
The agencies that investigate cyber crimes may depend on the type of alleged criminal activities. In many cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) handles cases such as online fraud, child pornography, and computer financial crime investigations. The U.S. Secret Service may investigate hacking, SPAM and counterfeiting crimes. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may investigate copyright piracy. Even the Postal Inspection Service may get involved in computer crime investigation. In some cases, international law enforcement such as the Interpol may investigate computer crimes.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts even has its own Cyber Crime Division under the Office of the Attorney General. The specifically investigate and prosecute complex cases involving digital evidence, forensics and criminal matters involving technology. The Cyber Crime Division works in conjunction with state and local law enforcement.
Defenses to Computer Crime Charges
Computer crimes can be very complicated, both legally and technologically. The scope of computer crimes can range from state to federal investigations and prosecution. An experienced cyber crime defense lawyer from Dhar Law LLP in Boston will be able to clarify the issues you face, undertake an in-depth investigation, and develop a strong legal defense strategy. Call our law firm today at 617-391-0592.