California Cybercrime Laws & Charges + Statute of Limitations

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A lot of people know the term ‘hacking’. However, hacking is just one of very many different types of cyber crimes. And since the world is becoming increasingly digital, the number of cyber crimes is also rising. California has a number of state laws in place in order to protect people while they are online or when using their computers. These go above and beyond simply protecting the information, data, software, and hardware on these devices.

Computer crimes that focus on individuals illegally accessing a computer network, system, or device in order to destroy, delete, disrupt, alter, or otherwise change an element of this, is in effect a part of the greater umbrella term of ‘cyber crime’. Introducing malware to a network, system, or device, is also classed as a computer crime, and therefore also comes under cyber crime, as does unauthorized access of data.

In all types of cyber crimes, the prosecution must prove that the crime was committed knowingly and with intent. Accidents happen online and these cannot be classed as a cyber crime. For instance, someone clicking on a link in a spam email and sending it through to friends by accident, thereby starting a snowball effect of infected computers, is not classed as a cyber criminal if that person was not aware of its effect. The person who created the spam email, by contrast, is a cyber criminal.

Laws and Penalties

Because there are so many different types of cyber crimes, there are also many laws in California to address them. In fact, they fall into one of five broad categories, the latter two involving internet crimes committed against children. The five categories of crimes are:

  1. Internet fraud, such as the above mentioned example of sending out spam email messages. Any fraudulent scheme that is found online or sent via email is classed as internet fraud and covered under Penal Code 484(e).
  2. Identity theft or phishing, whereby the internet or email messages are used in order to cause people to give their sensitive and personal information, including such things as their date of birth, social security number, and credit card number. This is covered under Penal Code 530.5. Business & Professions Code 22948 is also relevant.
  3. Hacking, which means a computer network, system, or device, or its data, is accessed by someone who does not have the required permission to do so. This is charged as a computer crime and is governed by (California Penal Code Section 502.
  4. Child pornography is the first of the two crimes against children involving cyber technology. This basically means that illegal and disturbing sexual materials involving children is distributed and watched using the internet. This is covered under Penal Code 311.11.
  5. Unlawful Contact with a Minor, which means a child is lured by someone for a sexual encounter by using the internet. This is covered under Penal Code 288.3-288.4.

A relatively new form of cyber crime is cyber terrorism. However, this is almost inevitably charged under federal laws.

Because there are so many different types of cyber crimes, there are also many different types of penalties. Some are minor, whereas others can lead to lengthy prison sentences and other consequences. Common punishments include:

  • Fines in a very wide range of amounts. If classed as a misdemeanor, the fine can be anything from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or even more. If someone receives a felony conviction, they have to pay more than $100,000.
  • Prison or jail sentences can also be imposed. Again, the length of the sentence depends totally on the severity of the crime. In cases of child pornography, for instance, a defendant may face as much as 20 years in prison or even more.
  • Probation is also likely, either in lieu of incarceration, or to reduce prison sentence. During this time, someone must be able to meet the terms and conditions of their probation in order to remain free.

Cybercrime Defenses

There are very few defenses against cyber crime, with the exception of lack of intent, such as when a person accidentally clicks on a link on a spam email as mentioned above.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations varies depending on who the victim was. If they are really young, the statute clock will not start ticking until the child is 18 years old.