Whether you or a loved one has been arrested, or are under investigation for computer crimes, it is critical to consult with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. You need the counsel of an experienced Miami computer crimes attorney to guide you through the process and maximize your chances of resolving your case with a favorable outcome.

What is Computer Crime?

Computer crimes are criminal offenses that are typically committed online. Although often times they are motivated by financial gain, there are also cases that are committed for other reasons (e.g., sabotage).  Sometimes actual money is targeted while other times the goal is to steal information which may or may not be used to steal money at a later time. “Hacking” refers to the unauthorized access of a computer network and plays a role in many computer crimes.  

There are many criminal offenses, while not technically computer crimes, where a computer can be used in committing the crime. Some examples are stalking, child porn offenses, and identity theft. Using a computer, however, is not always a necessary element of those crimes. 

State & Federal Computer Crimes Laws

Both the state of Florida and the federal government have passed criminal laws relating to computers. These laws often overlap, meaning that you could theoretically be prosecuted in state court or face federal criminal charges. Practically speaking, the federal government more frequently prosecutes sophisticated/large scale computer crimes targeting corporate and governmental networks. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), “is responsible for implementing the Department’s national strategies in combating computer and intellectual property crimes worldwide.”

Florida Computer Crime Laws

Florida Computer related crimes are found in Florida Statutes, Chapter 815. The two main computer crime statutes are:

  • Florida Statute 815.04 – Offenses against intellectual property—This law makes it a crime to access a computer/network
  • Florida Statute 815.06 – Offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks, and electronic devices

Offenses Against Computer Users

A person commits can commit this offense if they knowingly and willingly do any of the following things without authorization:

  • Access or cause to be accessed any computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device with knowledge that the access is unauthorized or the manner of use exceeds authorization;
  • Disrupt or deny or cause the denial of the ability to transmit data to or from an authorized user of a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device, which, in whole or in part, is owned by, under contract to, or operated for, on behalf of, or in conjunction with another;
  • Destroy, take, injure, or damage equipment or supplies used or intended to be used in a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device;
  • Destroy, injure, or damage any computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device;
  • Introduce any computer contaminant into any computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device; or
  • Engage in audio or video surveillance of an individual by accessing any inherent feature or component of a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device, including accessing the data or information of a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device that is stored by a third party.

Punishment for Offenses Against Computer Users

A violation of this law is usually a third-degree felony, meaning that if you are found guilty you would face a maximum of five (5) years in state prison. In certain circumstances, however, you could face greater penalties.

You can be found of a felony of the second degree, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, if the prosecutor can prove that while committing the offense you:

  1. Damaged a computer, computer equipment or supplies, a computer system, or a computer network and the damage or loss is at least $5,000;
  2. Committed the offense for the purpose of devising or executing any scheme or artifice to defraud or obtain property (organized fraud);
  3. Interrupted or impaired a governmental operation or public communication, transportation, or supply of water, gas, or other public service; or
  4. Intentionally interrupted the transmittal of data to or from, or gained unauthorized access to, a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device belonging to any mode of public or private transit, as defined in s. 341.031.

You can be found guilty of a felony of the first degree, punishable by up to 30 years in prison if the prosecutor can provide that you did any of the following in the commission of the crime:

  1. Endangered human life; or
  2. Disrupted a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device that affects medical equipment used in the direct administration of medical care or treatment to a person.

The statute also contains a section making it a first-degree misdemeanor for a person to willfully, knowingly, and without authorization modify equipment or supplies used or intended to be used in a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device. If you are convicted of violating this section, you would face up to one (1) year in the county jail.

Offenses Against Intellectual Property

You can be found guilty of an offense against intellectual property, a third-degree felony, if the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt one of the following three scenarios:

  1. A person who willfully, knowingly, and without authorization introduces a computer contaminant or modifies or renders unavailable data, programs, or supporting documentation residing or existing internal or external to a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device commits an offense against intellectual property.
  2. A person who willfully, knowingly, and without authorization destroys data, programs, or supporting documentation residing or existing internal or external to a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device commits an offense against intellectual property.
  3. A person who willfully, knowingly, and without authorization discloses or takes data, programs, or supporting documentation that is a trade secret as defined in s. 812.081 or is confidential as provided by law residing or existing internal or external to a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device commits an offense against intellectual property.

If convicted, you could face up to five (5) years in state prison unless it was in the course of committing the crime of organized fraud. In that case the crime would be classified as a second-degree felony and carry a 15 year maximum prison sentence.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (Federal)

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is the federal cyber-security law aimed at protecting Internet-connected computers, bank computers, and government computers.

The law is meant to deter people from illegally accessing, threatening, and damaging computer networks, and to also deter the use of computers for espionage and from being corruptly used as instruments of fraud.  The law was passed to help fill in the gaps between other federal criminal laws when computer networks are specifically targeted. 

You can be charged for violating this law under seven different sections:

Subsection (a)(1) makes it illegal for a person “having knowingly accessed a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access,” to obtain confidential national security information “with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation willfully” attempts to or communicates it to someone “not entitled to receive it, or willfully” “fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.” Violation of this section carries a maximum prison sentence of up to ten years. Repeat offenders face a maximum sentence of up to twenty years imprisonment.

Subsection (a)(2) makes it a crime if a person “intentionally accesses a computer, without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains” financial information of a financial institution or a card issuer, “information from a department or agency of the United States,” or “information from a protected computer.” A violation of this section is punishable by up to one year imprisonment. If the offense is committed: for private or commercial gain, “in furtherance of a criminal or tortious act in violation of the Constitution” or federal or state laws, or “the value of the information exceeds five thousand dollars,” the maximum sentence is five years. The maximum penalty increases ten (10) years imprisonment for repeat offenders.

Subsection (a)(3) of the law relates to offenses involving government computers. It makes it illegal for a person to “intentionally, without authorization to access a nonpublic computer” of a federal department or agency. The targeted computer has to be exclusively for government use or, in the alternative, the offense conduct must “affect” the government’s use of the computer. The maximum punishment for violating this section is one (1) year of imprisonment, but may be increased to ten years for the repeat offender.

Subsection (a)(4) applies to theft from protected computers, making it a crime if a person “knowingly and with intent to defraud, accesses a protected computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access,” furthering the fraud and obtaining anything of value.” Protected computer” include computers owned b the government and financial institutions as well as computers “used in interstate or foreign commerce or communication.” This crime is punishable by up to five (5) years imprisonment. A repeat offender, on the other hand, can face a maximum prison sentence of five (5) years.

Subsection (a)(5) contains three parts. Subsection (a)(5)(A) makes it illegal for a person to “knowingly causes a transmission of a program, information, code or command, and as a result of such conduct intentionally causes damage without authorization to a protected computer.” Subsection (a)(5)(B) outlaws the intentional access of “a protected computer without authorization, and as a result of such conduct recklessly causes damage.” And Subsection (a)(5)(C) makes it a crime if someone “intentionally” access a “protected computer without authorization, and as a result of such conduct, causes damage and loss.” If convicted under subsection (a)(5)(a), there is a maximum punishment of up to ten (10) years imprisonment with a repeat offender facing a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. If the “offender knowingly and recklessly causes serious bodily injury” resulting from the conduct the sentence can be increased to 20 years and can be increased further to a life sentence “if the offender knowingly and recklessly causes or attempts to cause death from the conduct.” A conviction under subsection (a)(5)(B) carries a prison sentence of up to five (5) years with repeat offenders facing a maximum prison sentence of ten (10) years. Last, (a)(5)(C) increases the sentence to ten (10) years for a repeat offender. All other crimes under (a)(5) carry a maximum sentence of one year if not otherwise specified.

Subsection (a)(6) outlaws the interstate trafficking of password, specifically, making it a criminal offense if a person “knowingly and with intent to defraud traffics” “in any password or similar information.” The trafficking must affect “interstate commerce or foreign commerce,” or the computer must be used by or for the federal government. The maximum punishment upon conviction is one (1) year imprisonment with a ten (10) year maximum sentence for repeat offenders.

Subsection (a)(7) makes it a crime if someone “with intent to extort from any person any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to cause damage to a protected computer; threat to obtain information from a protected computer with authorization or in excess of authorization or to impair the confidentiality of information obtained from a protected computer without authorization or by exceeding authorized access; or demand or request for money or other thing of value in relation to damage to a protected computer, where such damage was caused to facilitate the extortion.” The maximum potential sentence for a conviction under this section is up to one (1) year in prison with a repeat offender facing up to ten (10) years.

Additional Resources

Cyber Crime – Information from the FBI’s Cyber Crime Division on Cyber Crime, the Cyber Initiative and Resource Fusion Unit (CIRFU), and the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance (NCFTA).

The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) – Information about The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), is responsible for implementing the Department’s national strategies in combating computer and intellectual property crimes worldwide. CCIPS prevents, investigates, and prosecutes computer crimes by working with other government agencies, the private sector, academic institutions, and foreign counterparts.

Contact an Experienced Miami Computer Crimes Attorney

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