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Internet crime and federal law: things can get a bit murky

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is a piece of legislation that many Missouri residents and other persons across the country likely know little or nothing about. Millions -- if not billions -- of persons around the world routinely use computers at work and home without, understandably, garnering deep or even fundamental knowledge of laws that have been enacted to govern usage and provide for criminal penalties in instances of Internet crime.

The CFAA was passed by Congress in 1984 -- more than a quarter century ago, when computer technology was in its relative infancy compared with what is available and operative today -- and geared toward hackers. The government's fear and rationale for passing the legislation was its concern that some hackers would gain illegal entry to websites to steal information, interfere with use and/or destroy programs.

Although that continues to be the thrust of the CFAA decades later, there still remains uncertainty among many persons regarding the types of activities that will deemed unlawful and prosecuted by federal lawyers.

One recent and highly noted case, for example, involves a person who was sentenced to three-plus years in prison for obtaining the personal records of AT&T users. His conviction was secured despite the argument that the company’s website was publicly accessible.

More recently, a company was ruled against by a federal judge in a case that again involved a publicly accessible website. The material facts of the case centered on the company 3Taps accessing and republishing advertisements from Craiglist’s website. Craiglist sent a cease-and-desist order to 3Taps and also sought to block its IP address from that company. 3Taps thwarted the blockade and continued its usage, an action that the judge deemed a violation of the CFAA.

There are criticisms of that ruling, especially a complaint that the CFAA is being invoked to punish individuals and companies that are merely accessing already-public sites and not seeking to break passwords or breach other internal protective measures put in place by site owners.

Internet crime is relatively new terrain, and it can involve a number of complex considerations. A criminal defense attorney with a proven background in this technical area can answer questions and provide diligent representation against any criminal charge.

Source: Wired, "IP cloaking violates Computer Fraud and Abuse Act," judge rules," David Kravets, Aug. 20, 2013

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