Federal charges for computer crimes

On Behalf of | Oct 17, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

Alabama has its own set of laws to punish computer crimes. However, people accused of computer crimes may also risk being charged with federal offenses as well. Congress passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 1986 to address the increasing variety of computer crimes associated with the tech boom. The CFAA attempts to strike a balance between the federal government’s interests and states’ rights to penalize these crimes.

What is CFAA?

The CFAA made using a computer to access classified information without authorization a felony and made it a misdemeanor to access credit or financial records stored by a financial institution or government computer. Typically, jurisdiction is limited to cases with a compelling federal interest, where government computers or financial institutions were targeted or if the crime was interstate in nature. Typically, courts often assume the computer crime was involved in, or was affecting, interstate commerce if the Internet was involved.

Crimes under the CFAA

Some of the federal offenses classified as felonies under the CFAA include obtaining potentially damaging classified information without authorization, accessing a computer to defraud and obtain value, and using a computer for extortion. CFAA misdemeanors that can easily aggravate to felonies, include trafficking in passwords, trespassing on a government computer, and accessing a computer and obtaining information. Recklessly or intentionally damaging or causing damage through transmission or intentional access are other misdemeanors that quickly aggravate to serious charges.

Beyond the CFAA, there are dozens of federal laws targeting computer crimes. The WireTap Act targets criminals intercepting communications, and there are federal statutes for identity theft, aggravated identity theft, access device fraud, communication interference, unlawful access to stored communications and wire fraud. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, sending unsolicited commercial emails commonly known as “spam” is a misdemeanor that can escalate to felony charges punishable based on the nature and scope of the scheme.