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Computer crime law challenged as overly broad

A recent review of the news demonstrates what appears to be a significant rise in cyber crime prosecution. While there are a variety of state and federal laws governing computer crimes, most individuals accused of federal computer crimes in the U.S. are prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the primary U.S. anti-hacking law. As many readers may know, the CFAA is a highly controversial piece of legislation.

California residents may recall the case of the man who was sentenced to nearly three and a half years in federal prison for violating the CFAA. The Justice Department accused the man dubbed "weev" of the unauthorized access of a protected computer system. The accused allegedly hacked into AT&T's website. However, the self-proclaimed hacker and his defense team claim that the company's website was actually wide open.

The man's case has garnered a considerable amount of attention because it highlights one of the most difficult issues in the digital age: How can the law ensure the freedom of movement in cyberspace while protecting sensitive financial information and intellectual property from theft? This gentlman's case is just one of many ongoing cases also lending fuel to the argument that the existing law is simply too broad.

In an attempt to revise the CFAA, a California representative has proposed new language that would narrow the law by limiting it to circumventions of technological barriers rather than a simple breach of contract or violation of the terms of service. In a competing proposal, rather than limiting the CFAA, the Justice Department has sought to expand it by making violations of the CFAA subject to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

In the current debate over Internet crimes legislation, many people highlight the potential for very complicated federal criminal cases for computer crimes. In the meantime, while legislation is introduced and negotiated, the key is for defendants charged with these types of computer crimes to work with a criminal defense attorney who fully understands the current CFAA law and implications.

Source: Bloomberg Law, "AT&T Hacker Weev Is Flashpoint For Website Crime Law," Dune Lawrence & David Voreacos, June 17, 2013