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NY Penal Law § 156.05: Unauthorized Use of a Computer

July 4, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

In the criminal code, the definition of  “unlawful access of computers” is illegally accessing a computer or computer network, or allowing another person to have access. The crime of unauthorized access of a computer can entail a number of different activities, including deciphering another person’s secret password and utilizing it to access that person’s computer, sharing a password to other individuals who do not have authorization to access the computer, hacking into someone’s computer over the internet, or posing as another person in order to access computer services that would otherwise not be available to you. These kinds of activities are crimes. Pursuant to New York Penal Law § 156.05, you have committed the crime of unauthorized use of a computer if you use or access a computer, computer service, or computer network without the owner’s authorization and you are aware that you are doing so.

A Case Law Example

During the time that he was living with his former girlfriend, Mr. Anthony Rucano installed a program on her computer.  The program was designed to record the keystrokes of that computer, including her account names and the passwords to her email accounts. After the relationship was over, Mr. Rucano accessed his now ex-girlfriend’s email account from an IP address registered to him. In the end, Rucano pled guilty to unauthorized use of a computer. His case was the People v. Rucano, 2015 NY Slip Op 50177 (N.Y. App. Term, 2015)

Offenses that are Related

Computer trespass: New York Penal Law § 156.10

Criminal possession of computer related material: New York Penal Law § 156.35

Computer tampering in the fourth degree: New York Penal Law § 156.20

Computer tampering in the third degree: New York Penal Law § 156.25

Computer tampering in the second degree: New York Penal Law § 156.26

Possible Defenses

In order to successfully prosecute you on a charge of unauthorized use of a computer, the prosecutor needs to demonstrate that you knowingly used or accessed a computer without the authorization of the owner. In actuality, New York Penal Law § 156 specifically states that it is a defense against this charge if you had a plausible reason to believe that you had authorization to access and use the computer.

Another defense consists of  a mistaken identity defense. If another individual utilized your computer to unlawfully access someone else’s computer without your knowledge or permission, then you should be able to successfully come up against a charge of unauthorized use of a computer

The Sentence

Being a class A misdemeanor, should you be convicted of unauthorized use of a computer, the judge may sentence you to a jail term of up to a year, a probation term of 3 years, and the payment of a fine.

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