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What is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?

Our lives are becoming more and more digitized. Our financial accounts, personal identifying information, and even our social lives are online. While limitations should be placed on who can have access to this information, sometimes security is breached, sparking an investigation. Under these circumstances, an individual may find themselves facing federal charges. If convicted, such an individual may come face-to-face with extremely harsh penalties.

This is because many computers are protected by federal law. Known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, this law makes it a federal offense to knowingly access a computer without having proper authorization. It is also illegal under the law to go beyond the limitations of authorized access. In order for this law to kick in, though, certain elements must exist. For example, this law applies when the computer in question was breached in order to gain access to records of a financial institution or federal agency. There is a catchall, though, as the law also applies to "any protected computer."

The penalties for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act can devastate an individual's life. A convicted individual may be sentenced to prison for anywhere from five years to life. Fines may also be imposed, leaving an individual on financially unsteady footing even after they serve time in jail. Additionally, a federal conviction can leave an individual with a mar on their record that can send a ripple of negative consequences throughout their life.

This, of course, only scratches the surface of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The law contains many sections addressing many issues. While this may make the law even more daunting to those facing criminal charges, it also provides additional options for criminal defense. In order to succeed, a prosecutor must prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, those facing federal charges should consider discussing their case with an experienced attorney who can help them consider how to attack each of those elements.

Source: Cornell University Law School, "18 U.S. Code § 1030 - Fraud and related activity in connection with computers," accessed on April 14, 2017

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