Computer Crimes

As part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, Congress sought to revamp the criminal code to reflect the rise of computers. Specifically, Congress sought to make crimes using the internet and computer networks illegal. With mail and wire fraud statutes already on the books, Congress sought additional tools specifically targeting this new era of technological advancement. One such tool is 18 U.S.C. § 1030 – Fraud and related activity in connection with computers, a comprehensive statute outlining various computer criminal offenses.

Provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1030

As noted, 18 U.S.C. § 1030 includes a litany of criminal offenses related to the use of computers. Here are some of those provisions:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(1): Makes it a crime for one to knowingly access a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access to commit espionage.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2): Bars one from intentionally accessing a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access and obtaining governmental, financial, or information from a "protected computer."
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(3): Bans trespassing on a government computer.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(4): Prevents one from using a "protected computer" without authorization or exceeding authorized access to commit fraud.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5): Restricts one from knowingly causing intentional damage to a "protected computer."
What is a "Computer" under 18 U.S.C. § 1030?(e)(1)?

Under this provision, a "computer" is defined as "an electronic, magnetic, optical, electrochemical, or other high speed data processing device performing logical, arithmetic, or storage functions, and includes any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such device." In short, any technological device––whether it be a laptop/desktop, iPad, iPhone, or other smart tools––is considered a computer under the statute.

What Makes a Computer "Protected" under 18 U.S.C. § 1030(e)(2)?

18 U.S.C. § 1030(e)(2) defines "protected computer" as a computer:

  • (A) exclusively for the use of a financial institution or the United States government, or in the case of a computer not exclusively for such use, used by or for a financial institution or the United States Government and the conduct constituting the offense affects that use by or for the financial institution or the Government; or
  • (B) which is used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication.
  • In short, a protected computer is one used by a financial institution (bank) or the United States government or one used in interstate or foreign commerce. The statute does not require the defendant to use the computer. However, if the device has an Internet connection, then the definition is met.
Computer Crime Penalties

The penalties for computer crimes differ depending on the offense, though it is not uncommon for 18 U.S.C. § 1030 violations to include significant Federal prison terms and monetary fines. For example, accessing someone else's device without their permission is a misdemeanor offense that comes with a possible one-year jail sentence and a $100,000 fine. Now, if that impermissible use was done to commit fraud exceeding $5,000, the crime jumps to felony status, making it punishable by a five-year Federal prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. Another possible enhancement occurs if damage was done to the computer.

Importance of Legal Counsel

The mere threat of Federal criminal charges is debilitating. The possibility of spending time behind bars and having to pay a significant fine is not something one wants to endure. Some might feel as if they have nowhere to turn and feel compelled to plead guilty. That is not the case. Take the time to review the materials you have, whether it be an indictment or subpoena, and begin to consider hiring legal counsel. As a former federal and state prosecutor, Peter Katz has much of his career as a prosecutor and knows the ins and outs of criminal defense. By engaging with defense counsel during the early stages of the investigation, the more leverage one has in crafting their defense.

Peter is ready to bring his over two decades of experience to your case and work tirelessly on your behalf to protect you and your rights. Call the Law Offices of Peter Katz at (609) 734-4380 or online to begin preparing your defense today.