Texas Laws on Computer Crimes
Nearly everyone uses a computer at some point during their day. These high-tech machines have become indispensable for work, recreation and school. When we’re not using a computer or laptop, we’re often browsing websites and social media on smart phones and tablets.
Laws have been created in Texas to deal with the issue of illegal use of computers. While most people use these devices for innocent purposes, they can quickly get into serious trouble if they violate the law on an electronic device.
Defining Computer Crimes
The category of computer crimes in Texas is huge and covers a vast number of actions. To get a good sense of what can and can’t be done legally on a computer, it is helpful to group computer crimes into different categories. This paints a clear picture of what constitutes acceptable behavior on a computer.
These categories include:
- Illegal Access
- Distributing or Accessing Illegal Materials
- Offenses Against Others
Although these categories may not cover every single crime that can be committed with a computer, the most common computer offenses fall into these groups. Taking a closer look at these categories can make legal computer issues easier to understand.
Illegal Access Crimes
When many people think of computer crimes, they may imagine the word “hacking”. In reality, this crime is very different from the way that it is portrayed in movies and on TV. Illegally accessing a computer in order to commit fraud is a crime, according to Section 33.02 of the Texas Penal Code. Known as Breach of Computer Security, this law makes it illegal to:
- Knowingly access a computer, computer system or computer network without the consent of the owner
- Gain such access in order to commit fraud or do harm
You don’t have to be an expert hacker to violate this law. In fact, a person can be charged with breach of computer security for simply using another person’s online accounts.
For example, Mark walks into his roommate’s room to borrow his laptop. He notices his roommate is still logged into his Facebook account. Mark uses the account to ask his roommate’s parents to mail a check to their apartment. Mark then takes the check and cashes it for himself. He may be charged and prosecuted for breach of computer security.
Distributing or Accessing Illegal Materials
There is plenty of valuable information that is accessible by a computer. However, there is a large amount of illegal material on the Internet as well.
You don’t necessarily have to be an expert or access the Deep Web in order to find this type of content. For example, a person can be investigated by law enforcement if they access:
- Illegal pornography
- Message boards used by terrorist groups
- Websites that distribute stolen content (music, movies, etc)
- Services that post stolen information (private photos, emails, etc)
A person who distributes or accesses this type of material may face state as well as federal charges. Sending illegal material to a person in another state may be considered a federal felony and could be investigated by the FBI.
Offenses Against Others
Some crimes are illegal in everyday life and they may be just as illegal if they are moved to an online context. For example, if Dave is walking down the street when he approaches Beth and threatens to beat her up and vandalize her house, he may be arrested and charged with assault.
If he does the same thing online using a social media site, he may have his online account banned and he may face harassment charges. This same principle applies to crimes like solicitation of a minor and stalking. Simply moving a behavior onto the Internet is not a good way to avoid getting into trouble.
Being convicted of a computer crime can have serious consequences. For example, a conviction for Breach of Computer Security can be prosecuted as a Class C misdemeanor up to a first degree felony. This can lead to punishments ranging from a $500 fine to more than 20 years in prison.
Online harassment is a Class B misdemeanor and accessing child pornography can lead to felony convictions. In addition to these punishments, a judge may order additional restrictions for computer crimes, including:
- House arrest
- A ban from using electronic devices
- Mandatory educational courses about computer use
There are many ways to defend against computer crimes charges. One of the most common defense tactics is to argue that the defendant has been misidentified or wrongfully accused. Because computers and smart devices are so common, it is not unreasonable to argue that a person’s computer was used by another person without their permission.
A defense attorney may use this strategy to argue that their client was not the person who committed an illegal act.
Have you or someone you know been arrested and charged with any form of computer crime? Time is not on your side! Contact attorney Matthew Sharp today for the tough defense you need. Call his office at 713-868-6100.