The internet is now an integral part of almost every American’s everyday life. We use the internet to conduct business, personal correspondence, making purchases, pay bills and manage finances, and much more. With a large amount of sensitive information transmitted every minute, it is no surprise that many people turn to the internet to attempt to commit crimes for their own personal gain. In response to these risks, the Pennsylvania legislature has enacted numerous laws making certain acts involving a computer or the internet criminal offenses with strict penalties. These laws address a variety of acts for which you may be arrested and charged with a crime in Pennsylvania. Moreover, many computer crime schemes are investigated by federal authorities and you may find yourself facing federal criminal charges in some situations.
Whether you are under suspicion of a state or federal computer offense, you should take you situation very seriously. These cases can involve a large amount of complex evidence against you and complicated criminal procedures. If you do not have a qualified criminal defense attorney standing up for your rights, you could be facing extensive fines, a long jail sentence, restrictions on future computer use or ownership, among other serious consequences.
Types of computer-related offenses
The following are some examples of computer crimes under Pennsylvania law:
- Unlawful use of a computer – Accessing or using a network, software, program, website, or database without authorization with the intention of using the information or access for fraudulent or wrongful purposes or with the intent to alter computer functioning. This is a third degree felony.
- Disruption of service – Engaging in a scheme intended to cause the denial of computer services to another party, including preventing them from accessing information or conducting transactions on their computer. This is a third degree felony.
- Computer theft – Accessing data from a network, software, program, website, or database without authorization with the intention of taking or copying that data to deprive the rightful owner possession of the information. This is a third degree felony.
- Unlawful duplication – Without authorization, intentionally copying using any method a program, software, or data stored in or communicated by a computer. This is a third degree felony or a second degree felony if the duplicated material is valued at over $2,500.
- Computer trespass – Accessing a computer without authorization with the intent of removing programs or data, causing a malfunction in the computer, erasing or altering programs, data, or software, fraudulently creating or altering a financial instrument, electronically transferring funds, or cause injury to another person. This is a third degree felony.
- Distribution of a computer virus – Intentionally distributing, giving, or selling any program or software that will disrupt, delay, disable, damage, impede, or destroy normal operations and performance of a computer, software, program, database, network, or website. This is a third degree felony.
- Unlawful transmission of electronic mail – Accessing a computer or network without authority with the intent to forge or falsify any information meant for transmission via electronic mail (email). This is a third degree misdemeanor, however can be a first degree misdemeanor if the damage caused is more than $2,500 or a third degree felony if the damage is over $2,500 and the act is deemed to be malicious.
As you can see, the above criminal offenses can be complicated and may often overlap, causing one defendant to be charged with several offenses arising out of one alleged incident of hacking. Anyone charged with any computer crimes in Pennsylvania needs an attorney who specifically understands the elements of all of the charged offenses so that you are not wrongfully convicted of unnecessary charges.
In addition to hacking crimes, there are many other acts that involve a computer that can be prosecuted in criminal court. Though we will discuss those in another post, know that they include child pornography, cyber-bullying, identity theft, fraudulent online scams, and many more.
An experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer can help you
Most computer crimes are charged as felony offenses, which means you are facing costly fines and a potential jail sentence. If you have been arrested for a computer crime, there has likely been an ongoing investigation against you to gather evidence. Your first call should be to a qualified criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia who understands this type of case. At The Zeiger Firm, defense lawyer Brian Zeiger builds strong defenses for every client and every charge, so please call today at 215-546-0340 for assistance.