Crimes and criminal defenses that affect computers and technology is a constantly evolving practice. Cybercrime can involve many things, including taking money from financial institutions or retailers, or even taking personal information from consumers such as credit card information, social security numbers, or other forms of identification. This can be done by illegal monitoring, hacking or phishing. Criminal defense attorneys are having to be creative and quick in their education when they defend those accused of cybercrime, as the technology can change on a daily basis.
Generally speaking, software developers that create ‘spyware’ or software to monitor the activities of people using a computer are not illegal. That is because as long as the person owns the computer upon which they are installing the software, and do not publish the activity, they are within their rights. Usually, you see this kind of behavior with businesses that want to curtail nonproductive time on computers by their employees, or even parents that monitor their children’s time on the computer. If it is being used to spy on another person’s cell phone, or computer (that the other does not own, and there is a reasonable expectation of privacy), then this use is illegal. Cleverly, however, most software developers blatantly market their products for only legal purposes, and accept no liability for the illegal use of their products. Getting an attorney on board during the development process can help companies by ensuring their disclaimers are comprehensive and legal, in order to avoid any criminal prosecution or even civil liability from angry folks who have been spied on.
Hacking is a much more common and sinister activity that has plagued the software development industry. Hacking usually involves the unauthorized access of someone’s computer or online account (typically a bank account). This kind of behavior can implicate multiple state and federal statutes, including the wire fraud and wiretapping statutes. If a person uses a computer or other electronic communications device (like an iPhone) to fraudulently deprive another person of property, they have committed an offense under the federal wire fraud statute. The legislature of this country has been hard-pressed to keep up with the changing nature of computer crimes, and has tried to regularly pass and update the penal code to address these issues. If you have been accused of hacking and its various criminal violations, an attorney will be able to help you determine whether the activity alleged is actually a crime under the law as it currently stands. An attorney that is well-versed in this kind of defense will be able to contact the appropriate experts to develop a defense. They will also know how to cross-examine and question any other expert the prosecution might hire to prove their case. Hiring an attorney early on in an investigation will allow them to gather more evidence in your favor and develop a more nuanced defense strategy.
Penalties for computer and internet crimes are varied. Some are minor penalties involving small fines (like a few hundred dollars for misdemeanors), while others can have massive fines in conjunction with lengthy prison sentences (like a felony conviction, where fines can be in excess of $100,000.00). Computer crimes are widespread, but very serious. They can involve multiple laws, both state and federal, complicated evidentiary issues and lengthy government investigations. Hiring an attorney can help you navigate the complex procedural and evidentiary issues that will probably present themselves, as well as develop a strong defense strategy to obtain the best possible result in your favor.