Common Criminal Charges Involving the InternetSeptember 30, 2016
With the rise of the internet also came the rise of internet crimes. The internet opened up an entirely new realm for criminal offenses, especially due to the potential for anonymity in many online communications. However, authorities in Pennsylvania prosecute internet and computer crimes aggressively and there are many laws regarding these offenses.1 Many of these offenses are similar to offenses in the physical world, however, these specific criminal offenses involve a computer, the internet, or both.
You can be charged with computer trespass in Pennsylvania if a prosecutor believes that you intentionally used a network or computing device without the proper authority for any of the following purposes:
- Causing software or hardware malfunction (often through viruses)
- Removing, erasing, or changing any data from the computer system
- Causing physical damage to another party’s property
- Conducting an unauthorized transfer of funds electronically
- Stealing or altering a financial instrument
- If you are charged with computer trespass, you face a potential conviction for a third-degree felony.
Like any type of theft crime, computer theft involves accessing a network or computer system without authority or exceeding your permission to do so and viewing, taking, or copying data to intentionally deprive the rightful owner of the data. This offense can also result in a third-degree felony conviction on your record.
“Unlawful Use” of a Computer
This charge is a type of catch-all that refers to many different computer-related offenses and covers crimes related to hacking and misappropriating information, disrupting functioning of programs or websites, publishing private information, and more. These are also third-degree felonies.
Online Harassment and Stalking
Online harassment involves participating in conduct via the internet or e-mail that is meant to annoy or harass another person. Such actions can include using threats or obscene or lewd comments or images, and commonly involve anonymous conduct, repeated and inconvenient conduct, and other unspecified acts. Harassment online is a third-degree misdemeanor. Online stalking is considered to a more serious offense than harassment and involves repeated communication over the internet, email, or social media that makes the victim afraid of emotional or physical harm. This is a first-degree misdemeanor for a first offense.
The offense of cyberbullying is actually included in online harassment laws as a special subsection called the “Cyber Harassment of a Child.”2 This section of the law criminalizes contacting a minor in any manner online and making serious and disparaging comments about the victim’s physical health, mental health, physical appearance, sexual activity, sexuality, or any other statements meant to inflict harm or threaten the child. If a juvenile is charged with cyber harassment of a child, they can qualify for a diversionary program for education and rehabilitation and may have their records expunged.
Child Pornography or Solicitation
Child pornography charges can involve many different actions involving any depiction on a computer that shows a child under the age of 18 participating in any type of sexual act. This can include viewing such images, storing them on your computer, or distributing them through online contact. Child pornography is a third-degree felony for a first offense but can escalate significantly for any subsequent offenses. Solicitation of a minor involves online communications with someone you believe to be a minor that involves trying to get the minor to engage in activities that would be unlawful – usually of a sexual nature.
A wide variety of fraudulent schemes can be committed using the internet. Many of these fall under the category of “white collar crimes” and involve fraud for wrongful financial benefit. Some examples of such crimes can include using the internet for the following:
- Identity theft
- Investment fraud
- Credit card theft
- Fraudulent sales
- Money laundering and unlawful transfers of funds
Federal Wire Fraud Charges
In addition to state charges, many internet crimes run the risk of resulting in charges by federal authorities for wire fraud. This is especially the case if federal authorities had been investigating an ongoing online fraud scheme and can be in addition to any other criminal charges.
Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney to Learn More About our Services Today
At The Zeiger Firm, experienced criminal defense lawyer Brian Zeiger has handled many different kinds of cases involving the internet, from white collar crimes to online solicitation to child pornography. Please call our Philadelphia office at 215-546-0340 for help with your criminal case today.