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Laws related to Internet crimes, ambiguous and outdated

Today technology permeates almost every aspect of our lives. Just think about how often you use the Internet to submit a form, transfer money or pay bills, communicate with friends and access information. Additionally, companies readily rely upon intranet systems and websites to communicate with employees, track projects, bill clients and store sensitive business and financial data.

In recent years several businesses, including major retailers and financial institutions, have had their systems breached or hacked. In some cases, the individuals responsible for carrying out these data breaches seek to personally profit. In other cases, a data breach may be performed either intentionally or unintentionally by individuals who are performing what's referred to as security research.

While most major companies staff or hire technicians to handle Internet security matters, some will pay outside researchers or freelancers who are able to identify a breach and develop a solution. This practice, however, is rare and it's much more likely that an individual who admits or is discovered to have breached protected business systems will face criminal charges.

Many argue that existing laws which aim to protect individual and business systems are outdated and overly punitive. For example, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act states that "it's illegal to intentionally access a computer without authorization" or to breach authorization "to obtain information." The law, which was passed in 1986, is overly vague and fails to address or account for modern technological capabilities.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is another controversial law that aims to protect and control the sharing and dissemination of copyrighted materials online. The DMCA relates largely to copyrighted materials that are accessible by hacking or circumventing a business or library system.

In cases where individuals have been found to violate the CFAA or DMCA, penalties include hefty monetary fines and misdemeanor or felony criminal charges that may land an individual in prison for months or even years.

Individuals, who have questions about, fear they may face or are facing criminal charges related to an alleged cyber or Internet crime would be wise to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney. Cases involving Internet crimes are often complex in nature and an attorney who has successfully defended against similar cases can answer questions and vigorously defend an individual's rights.

Source: PC Magazine, "Computer Crime or Legitimate Research?," Neil J. Rubenking, Aug. 7, 2014

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