New York Computer Crimes Laws: A Helpful Guide for the Average Person
New York has laws that specifically address computer crimes, found in Article 156 of the New York Penal Law. These laws cover things like unauthorized computer access, computer hacking, identity theft, and possession of illegally obtained computer files.
As technology becomes more integrated into our lives, computer crimes are on the rise. Understanding the computer crime laws can help you avoid accidentally breaking them. It also helps if you’re ever the victim of a computer crime, so you know your rights and can cooperate with law enforcement if you choose to report it.
This article will summarize the key New York computer crimes laws in simple terms, so you don’t need a law degree to understand your rights and responsibilities! We’ll also look at real world examples of these laws in action.
What is a Computer Crime?
Broadly speaking, a computer crime is any crime that involves a computer, phone, or electronic device. Some common examples include:
- Hacking into someone’s computer or online accounts without permission
- Spreading malware like viruses or ransomware
- Stealing private data like financial information or passwords
- Harassing or stalking someone online
- Possessing illegally obtained files like pirated movies or software
- Damaging or altering someone’s computer data
- Using a computer to commit fraud, like identity theft
So anything from malicious hacking to simple computer trespassing can potentially be a computer crime if it violates the law.
Key New York Computer Crimes Laws
Here are some of the most important computer crimes laws in New York, in plain English:
Unauthorized Computer Access (NY Penal Law 156.05)
This law makes it illegal to access or use someone’s computer, network, or online accounts without authorization. For example:
- Hacking into someone’s Facebook account or email
- Using someone’s wifi network without their permission
- Accessing a work computer you aren’t authorized to use
Unauthorized computer access is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail.
Real World Example: A man was charged with unauthorized computer access after using his neighbor’s unsecured wifi network without their consent.
Computer Trespass (NY Penal Law 156.10)
This law is similar to unauthorized computer access, but applies when someone accesses a computer or network without consent and does so with intent to commit a further crime like fraud or identity theft.
For example, hacking into someone’s bank account would likely qualify as computer trespass since the intent is to commit bank fraud.
Computer trespass is a Class E felony, punishable by up to 4 years in prison.
Real World Example: A group of hackers were charged with computer trespass for hacking into a company’s network and attempting to steal sensitive customer data.
Computer Tampering (NY Penal Law 156.20 – 156.27)
This set of laws prohibits intentionally altering, damaging, or destroying someone’s computer data or programs without authorization. There are varying degrees based on the amount of damage done:
- 4th Degree (Class A misdemeanor): minor damage, like altering non-critical data
- 3rd Degree (Class E felony): more substantial damage over $1000
- 2nd Degree (Class D felony): caused serious injury by altering medical records
- 1st Degree (Class C felony): caused over $50,000 in damage
Real World Example: A disgruntled employee was charged with 3rd degree computer tampering after he deleted important company files and databases right before quitting his job. The estimated damages exceeded $1000.
Unlawful Duplication of Computer Material (NY Penal Law 156.29 – 156.30)
This law makes it illegal to copy or reproduce computer files without authorization, such as:
- Downloading pirated movies, music or software
- Copying proprietary computer programs or source code
- Duplicating someone’s personal documents or photos
Penalties vary based on the circumstances:
- 2nd Degree (Class B misdemeanor): copying medical records
- 1st Degree (Class E felony): copying data worth over $2500
Real World Example: A man was charged with unlawful duplication for burning multiple copied of pirated movies and selling them on the street.
Criminal Possession of Computer Material (NY Penal Law 156.35)
This law prohibits knowingly possessing computer files that were obtained illegally, like through hacking or piracy. So even if you weren’t directly involved in the initial crime, possessing the stolen files is still illegal.
Criminal possession is a Class E felony.
Real World Example: A woman was arrested after police found thousands of pirated songs and movies on her laptop that were downloaded through illegal file sharing sites.
Defenses to Computer Crime Charges
If you’ve been accused of a computer crime, there may still be defenses your attorney can raise on your behalf:
- You had authorization: For instance, you had the consent of the computer’s owner to access it or you were authorized through work to access certain files.
- No criminal intent: You accessed or copied the files by mistake without any intent to commit a crime.
- Misidentification: Someone else used your device or log-in credentials without your knowledge.
- Unlawful search: Evidence of the computer crime was obtained through an illegal search, making it invalid.
- Entrapment: Law enforcement induced you to commit the crime when you otherwise wouldn’t have.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the specifics of your case and decide if any defenses like these apply.
What to Do if You’re a Victim of a Computer Crime
If you’ve been the victim of a computer crime like hacking or identity theft, here are some steps to take:
- Report it to the police: File a complaint with local law enforcement so they can investigate. Give them any evidence like fraudulent activity on your accounts.
- Notify institutions affected: Alert your bank, credit card companies, employer etc. so they can freeze accounts and watch for suspicious activity.
- Change passwords: Make sure to change all passwords, security questions, and pins to lock the criminal out.
- Monitor your credit: Get copies of your credit reports and check for any signs of fraud like unauthorized accounts opened in your name.
- Consider an attorney: A lawyer can help you document evidence and correspond with law enforcement to build a strong case against the perpetrator.
The key points to remember about New York computer crimes laws include:
- They prohibit unauthorized computer access, hacking, data theft or destruction, and possession of illegally obtained files.
- Penalties range from misdemeanors to felonies based on the nature of the crime.
- There are defenses an attorney can raise if you’ve been accused, like authorization, lack of criminal intent, or unlawful search.
- If you’re a victim, report it to police and take steps like changing passwords to secure your data.
Computer technology brings amazing opportunities, but also risks if used irresponsibly. Following New York’s computer crime laws helps protect everyone’s rights and safety. With a basic understanding of these laws, you can use computers responsibly while being aware of your rights if you’re ever the victim or accused of a computer crime.