Computer Fraud and Abuse Act: What You Need to Know

Computers, smartphones, and the internet are household staples in California and across the United States of America.  Digital technology continues to rise in popularity as our society obsesses with the “need to know everything right now”. It comes as no surprise that the rise in popularity correlates with an increase in computer crime across the world. In 2015, more than 60,000 global cyber crimes were reported. In recent years, well-known companies like Target and Sony Pictures suffered as victims of cyber crimes. These crimes are not limited to larger companies, though.  In fact, over 60% of attacks target small to mid-size businesses in 2014.

In 1986, Congress amended the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to address the concern of rising cyber crimes. This act prohibits unauthorized access to computers and networks.  During the past twelve years, the act was updated an additional six times to keep up with computer hackers and their creative crimes. Cyber crimes include espionage, computer trespassing, identity theft, information theft, damaging computers with viruses, phishing scams, and committing fraud with computers.

Cyber crimes vary in levels of severity and those accused are subject to various levels of penalties.  Penalties include fines from as little as a hundred dollars to over $100,000, time in prison, and probation. The severity of the penalty is based on multiple factors:

1.       Are children involved in the crime?

2.       What type of data was compromised?

3.       Is the attack on a private business on a government agency?

4.       What is the individual’s previous criminal history?

Individuals that commit cyber crimes know they are walking a tightrope. If they go too far in their criminal activities, they will fall off the line and get caught. 15 % of the United State’s internet crime was reported in California last year and resulted in $195 million in losses, according to the FBI.

Many think that with laws in place to actively prohibit such crimes, we will see an increase in the number of hackers convicted. This is not the case. Like many laws, the CFAA lacks clarity and definition on what is or is not considered computer hacking. The six additional amendments broadened definitions to encompass more cyber actions and in turn reduced its ability to be properly utilized in the courts. The broadness allows everyday internet tasks to be considered criminal. Aaron Swartz was a victim of such an instance where he was prosecuted for downloading too many articles from an online academic journal archive. The Justice department tends to target cases they are confident of winning and avoid prosecuting the really tough cases.   History shows us these winnable cases include activities where little or no harm is suffered by others. Time and money are being spent to prosecute misdemeanors while cyber criminals that cause significant harm and loss to others receive plea bargains or are forgotten about.

If you or someone you know has been convicted of a cyber crime, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer today.  Don’t allow yourself to become a victim of a law that lacks definition and clarity. Michael Berg is experienced in helping individuals like you in cyber crime defense. Claim your freedom by contacting him today at 619-239-2186.