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What is a federal computer crime?

The advent of the Internet has spawned a variety of criminal activities that are commonly referred to as "cybercrimes," "computer crimes," and "network crimes." The terms are used interchangeably and do not vary in their meaning. A Massachusetts who resident commits one of the enumerated crimes involving computers may be charged with one or more serious federal crimes.

The most sweeping Federal statute that defines computer crimes is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was first passed in 1984. The statute has been amended several times, but its central focus remains unchanged: whoever accesses a computer or computer network with intent to commit one or more of the acts identified in the statute can be charged with a computer crime. Specific crimes include obtaining national security information, obtaining information from a computer that the defendant does not own or is not authorized to use, trespassing in a government computer, using a computer to defraud and obtain value and extortion involving computers.

The Federal Wiretap Act was originally intended to regulate and protect telephone communications, but it has been amended to include any form of "electronic communication." Federal prosecutors generally interpret the amendments as applying to any case that involves spyware users and manufacturers or the surreptitious collection of information from a victim's computer. Other crimes include unlawful access to information stored on a computer or computer network, identity theft and generic wire fraud.

The terms that are used to define and prosecute computer crimes are very complex. Anyone who faces prosecution under one or more of the statutes mentioned above should make sure they understand the charges against them. With a proper understanding of the law and evidence that may apply to the case, a solid defense strategy can be formed.

Source: Office of Legal Education Executive Office for United States Attorneys, "Prosecuting Computer Crimes," accessed on April 15, 2018

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