With the explosive growth of the Internet and computer technology, federal computer crimes have evolved from non-existent to touching on every aspect of computer activity for intensive and occasional users alike. There are a number of federal laws that criminalize computer activity, the most common of which are discussed below.
*The Law Office of Ann Fitz defends individuals who have been charged in federal court with committing computer crimes. We do not represent victims of a federal computer crime. If you are a victim of a federal computer crime, contact local law enforcement.
Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Computers, 18 U.S.C. § 1030
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was enacted by Congress in 1986 to reduce the hacking of government or other sensitive institutional computer systems. Over the years, it has been amended several times, most recently in 2008, to cover a broad range of conduct far beyond its original intent. Currently, the CFAA contains six felony offenses and five misdemeanors, including:
- Obtaining National Security Information
- Accessing a Computer and Obtaining Information
- Trespassing in a Government Computer
- Accessing a Computer to Defraud and Obtain Value
- Intentionally Damaging by Knowing Transmission (ex, transmitting a virus or malware)
- Extortion Involving Computers
- Attempt and Conspiracy to Commit such an Offense
Statutory sentences for these offenses range from 1 to 10 years.
Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Access Devices, 18 U.S.C. § 1029
18 U.S.C. § 1029 makes it a federal crime to knowingly, and with intent to defraud;
- Using or trafficking in counterfeit access devices
- Obtaining anything of value aggregating $1,000 or more within a year with a counterfeit access device
- Possessing fifteen or more counterfeit or unauthorized devices
- Possessing or trafficking in device making equipment
- Affecting transactions with devices issued to another person with the intent to receive payment or any other thing of value of $1,000 or more
- Using, producing, trafficking, or possessing a scanning receiver (ex, gas pump skimmers)
The majority of this law is directed at credit card fraud (including gift cards) and cell phone fraud, but the term “access devices” has been interpreted to include computer passwords. Statutory sentences are up to 10 or 15 years, depending on the offense. Upon conviction, federal forfeiture laws also apply, requiring forfeiture of all illegally obtained money or items.
Aggravated Identity Theft, 18 U.S.C. § 1028A
18 U.S.C. 1028A establishes the offense of aggravated identity theft, which was enacted in 2004 and prohibits the use of identifying information belonging to another in connection with the commission of certain federal offenses, including:
- Theft of public money
- Theft or embezzlement by a bank officer or bank employee
- Falsely impersonating a U.S. citizen
- False statements made during the acquisition of a firearm
- Bank Fraud, Wire Fraud, Mail Fraud
- Fraud related to passports and visas
- Obtaining customer information by false pretenses
- Willfully failing to leave the United States after deportation and creating a counterfeit alien registration card
- False statements related to the social security act
Identifying information under the statute has been defined to include a person's name, social security number, date of birth, driver's license number, passport number, employer or taxpayer identification number, or electronic identification number or routing code.
Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year sentence that must be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.
Defending Against Federal Computer Crimes
Regardless of the type of computer crime, the initial defense is always focused on the computer itself:
- HOW was the computer used?
- WHEN was the computer used?
- WHERE was the computer located?
- WHO used the computer? Can the prosecutor affirmatively prove the defendant was at the keyboard?
- WAS the search and seizure of the computer lawful?
As with any crime, the government must prove each and every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, including fraudulent intent and lack of authorization. An individualized assessment of the facts and circumstances of your case by a skilled federal defense attorney like Ann Fitz is the best way to determine the specific defenses available to you.