As a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia, I help people who have been accused of computer crimes. Local, Federal and State law enforcement agencies have in recent years increased their investigations into computer related crimes. This is a joint effort since most Internet related crimes often cross state lines meaning that they can be prosecuted at either federal or state levels. Pennsylvania has consolidated strict statutes that describe various activities that qualify to be computer related offenses and their potential punishments.
Pennsylvania’s laws prohibit any unauthorized activities that are related to computer hardware, systems and networks. It is important to note that since technology is continuously changing, these state laws will also change accordingly in order to adapt to new developments and offenses as they occur.
Types of Computer Crimes in Pennsylvania
1. Unlawful use of computers: This includes gaining access or using computer networks, software, programs, databases or websites without legal authorization with an intent of using this access for wrongful and fraudulent purposes. In addition, it is also illegal to alter a computer’s function without consent.
2. Disruption of service: This involves the engagement in a scheme intended to deny computer services to a third party. This includes preventing them from gaining access to information or conducting transactions using their computers.
3. Computer theft: This includes the illegal access of data from a computer program, website, database and network with the intention of copying or taking the data in order to deprive the owner its possession.
4. Unlawful duplication: This involves intentionally copying computer programs, data or software from a computer without authorization. This felony is considered third degree or second degree (if the value of the duplicated material is over $2,500).
5. Computer trespass: Unauthorized access to a computer with the intention of removing data or programs; causing malfunction; altering and erasing programs, software or data; fraudulently altering and creating a financial instrument; causing injury to another party and electronically transferring funds.
6. Distributing computer viruses: This involves the intentional distribution or sale of software and programs that disrupt, disable, delay, impede, destroy or damage normal performance and operations of computer databases, programs, software, websites or networks.
7. Unlawfully transmitting electronic mail: This involves accessing a network or computer without consent with the intention of falsifying or forging information that is transmitted via email.
8. Online child pornography: Involves intentionally possessing or viewing a child under 18 years engaging in a sexual activity using a computer.
9. Online harassment: This involves engaging in conduct that is intended to annoy or harass another person through online means of communication. Attracts a jail term not exceeding 1 year and a $2,500 fine.
10. Online stalking: Engaging in conduct that is intended to annoy or harass another person using email or Internet to communicate. This first degree offence can attract a jail term of up to 5 years and fines not exceeding $10,000.
Penalties for Computer Crimes in Pennsylvania
Penalties for criminal computer offences depend on issues like the gravity of the offence, prior criminal record, use of a deadly weapon and any other enhancing or aggravating factors. Offences like the unlawful use of email and computers, computer trespass, computer theft and possessing child pornography attract punishment of up to 7 years or fines that do not exceed $15,000.
Common Defenses against Computer Crimes in Pennsylvania
1. There are several possible statutory defenses that protect an accused against computer crimes. One such defense is proof of consent. This may be in the form of producing a legal contract or entitlement to engage in activities that lead to an offense.
2. Another possible defense open to an alleged offender is the provision of proof that they reasonably believed they had permission (from the owner) to engage in conduct leading to the offense.
3. Offenders charged with computer crimes may also use lack of intent as a possible defense. This may lead to a reduced sentencing or dismissal of their charges.
It is advisable for offenders and suspects charged with one or more computer crimes in Pennsylvania to seek the services of a competent attorney who is experienced in computer related crimes. If you need such an attorney in Philadelphia, contact Brian Fishman.