Federal Laws Concerning Cybercrime
The central federal law that governs the use of computers makes a wide variety of acts illegal. This statute, 18 U.S.C. §1030, states that it is illegal for any person to use a computer for an illegal purpose. This typically involves the use of a computer that is connected to the internet.
Congress has the authority to make this offense a federal crime through the use of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. This clause specifically gives Congress the authority to pass laws that regulate commerce between the states. Since the internet is a communications tool that passes between states, courts have recognized this as a valid interpretation of the commerce clause.
As a result, any of the following acts could be charged as a federal crime:
- Intentionally accessing a computer belonging to a bank or federal agency without permission
- Knowingly accessing a government computer and not returning any information gathered to the proper authorities
- Accessing a protected computer, even one protected by a simple password, for the purpose of committing a fraud
- Knowingly transmitting a threat over the internet that is intended to extort another party, i.e. ransomware
In short, any use of a computer for an otherwise illegal act is a violation of federal cybercrime laws.
Potential Punishments for Federal Cybercrimes
Most violations of 18 U.S.C. §1030 are misdemeanor-level crimes for which a court can sentence a guilty person to no more than one year in jail. One key exception to this, though, is the crime of illegally accessing a government computer. This is a felony for which the maximum penalty can be as much as ten years in prison, even for a first-time offender.
Enhanced penalties are also available for cybercrimes committed for personal financial gain. When this is the case, the maximum penalty may be as high as five years in prison, even for offenses that would otherwise only be misdemeanors. A federal cybercrime lawyer in Syracuse could help you better understand how this statute works and how it might apply to their situation.