As The Washington Post reported earlier this month, several high-profile celebrities have recently had personal images of themselves released over the Internet without their permission. The images were apparently acquired by computer hackers who broke into celebrity content storage accounts, such as the iCloud account of actress Jennifer Lawrence, that back up content from mobile and computer devices. Other targeted celebrities include model Kate Upton and pop singer Rihanna. Ms. Lawrence has led the charge to find the hackers and the FBI has now begun an investigation into the criminal hacking.
As the use of online content storage services, such as the iCloud, gains popularity, people are storing more and more of their personal information with such services. But what happens when an online criminal hacker breaks into one of these services and accesses personal files? Or what if the hacker breaks into a personal computer and alters it in some way? How are such criminals punished for this invasion into anothers property and privacy? Many states, and in particular Illinois, have made computer hacking a criminal offense.
Congress enacted The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in the late 80s as an amendment to the then-existing computer fraud law. The CFAA has been amended several times since then, and as the Internet has become more popular, hackers have become more skilled and cyber crimes have intensified.
Speaking generally and in its most current form, the CFAA criminalizes intentionally accessing a computer without authorization and subsequently doing one of the following: transmitting classified government information, stealing financial information, accessing a nonpublic government computer, committing computer fraud, transmitting a code or “virus” to another computer, trafficking passwords that interfere with interstate commerce, and computer extortion.
Under federal law, a computer hacker would serve up to 20 years in prison or pay upwards of $250,000 if convicted of violating a provision of the CFAA.
The state of Illinois has enacted the Computer Crime Prevention Law that makes the intentional hacking of anothers computer a criminal offense. The law specifically refers to three types of criminal acts involving a computer.
In Illinois, a criminal may be prosecuted for computer tampering. Computer tampering is defined by the legislature as accessing a computer, a program or data, without permission from its owner. Simply accessing without permission is a misdemeanor, however, accessing a computer without permission and then attempting to place a virus onto the computer is a felony.
A criminal may be charged with aggravated computer tampering in Illinois as well. This charge involves computer tampering that has the intended effect of either (A) interfering with the operations of state, local, or public utility; or (B) creating a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to others. This charge is always a felony in Illinois.
Lastly, a computer hacker may be prosecuted for computer fraud in Illinois. If a hacker were to access or use a computer, program or date as part of a scheme to gain control over money, services or property, the hacker would be charged with a felony in Illinois.
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