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What You Need to Know About Computer Crimes

December 23, 2014 New York Lawyers


One of the most controversial and rapidly changing areas of the law includes crimes involving computers. The proliferation of Internet-connected devices and social media has created a large and active ecosystem of new ways to take advantage of people. In some areas, the law has yet to catch up to these new abilities; in others, the law carries very stiff penalties.

Successfully investigating and prosecuting cybercrime can be difficult because the same technology that makes it easy to commit these crimes also makes it easy to anonymize them. Most cybercrimes are federal offenses, which at least gives law enforcement certain tools and powers of enforcement they can use to prosecute. If you have been charged with a computer crime, make sure you talk to your New York criminal defense attorney about what they entail and what the law requires.

Crimes Against Children

Child predators have found that the Internet can be an effective tool for luring minors and gaining their trust in inappropriate, sometimes sexual relationships. Sometimes these relationships happen entirely over the Internet, but in others, the adult may try to initiate a physical meeting. This broadly falls under child endangerment, which is a felony whether it occurs in cyberspace or real life. Online child endangerment can carry penalties up to life in prison as a New York criminal defense attorney can tell you.


Children are not the only targets; some people use the Internet to stalk, target and harass adults. Cyberstalking is handled differently depending on the severity of the act and whether it is a misdemeanor or felony. In most cases, it is similar to physical stalking (following or harassing someone). It may also include the act of disseminating personal and confidential information about a person over the Internet for the purpose of humiliating or harassing them. This is usually handled as a state offense, so talk to your New York criminal defense lawyer about how New York law handles this crime.

Viruses, Malware and Trojans

Computer attacks such as viruses and other malware that seek to cripple a target’s computer or illegally obtain private information from a target’s computer are among the most damaging computer crimes possible, and unfortunately, also some of the hardest to combat. Law enforcement often does not have the tools or resources needed to effectively investigate and stop these attacks. Furthermore, these attacks are often launched from overseas, creating jurisdictional issues. However, creating viruses is a federal offense in the United States.

One can think about “computer crimes” in two different ways. One definition would include whatever crimes a state has lumped within a statutory scheme as “computer crime”; the other would include any crime that involves the use of a computer. This article will discuss common offenses that meet both definitions from the perspective of a New York White Collar Crimes Attorney.

Crimes Involving Use of a Computer

New York can charge someone with a variety of “real world” crimes even if done by computer. One regular example – which is presently in front of the United States Supreme Court – is aggravated harassment (making threats to harm). These threats are often taken just as seriously if done by email, social media, or text as they would be if done in person. A New York white collar crimes lawyer will know how to pursue discovery to see if there is adequate proof as to who sent an electronic communication, as well as whether the statement was a “true threat.” Another example is the use of another person’s credit card over the Internet without permission. This is just as much of a theft as in-person use, but involves the additional evidentiary issue of from whose IP address the order came, as well as many other issues.

Crimes Labeled Computer Crimes

Computer crimes narrowly considered are the offenses listed under New York Penal Law Article 150. These crimes relate to accessing computer systems and go up in seriousness of penalty starting with the unauthorized viewing, to manipulation, to destruction of data that the actor did not have a reasonable belief they were entitled to access.

Basic Elements

Usually, the fundamental element that the State needs to prove was that the access was “without authorization.” This can get fuzzy. Did your roommate leave his laptop open in the living room, and you looked through his open email? Maybe the two of you know each other well and this would typically be fine; maybe, though, you should have known that this was not authorized. Other fact patterns have to do with sensitive data at information-based businesses. The fact that a log-in password allows one access to data doesn’t necessarily mean that one is free to manipulate that data. These are serious questions that one would need an experienced New York white collar crimes attorney to answer if charged with such an offense.



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