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Unauthorized Access Or Use Of Computer Or Data: How Does California Define Computer Crimes?

Okabe & Haushalter Jun 29, 2018 Computer Crime

Contrary to the popular belief, you do not necessarily have to work for a foreign state’s cyber intelligence or be a “hacker” to be charged with a computer crime in California. In reality, any form of accessing a computer, computer data, network or system without permission is qualified as a “computer crime” under California law.

While most people think that you can get in trouble with the law only if you engage in Internet fraud, cybercrime or hacking, there are less sophisticated ways of gaining unauthorized access to a computer or using computer data unlawfully and without permission.

In fact, you may not be aware that you are using a computer or accessing computer data without permission. We invited our Los Angeles computer crime defense attorney from the Okabe & Haushalter law firm to explain what constitutes “computer crime” under California’s criminal law. Let’s review some examples.

Examples of computer crimes in California

Example #1. Chris is an IT specialist at a leading tech company in Palo Alto. However, Chris was no longer satisfied with the pay and decided to quit his job voluntarily. But before he left the office, he copied computer data files from his computer at the office, some of which contained a rare programming code. Later, Chris uses that code to develop a product similar to his former employer’s main product. Chris begins selling his own product even though it is not his own creation. Basically, Chris stole the code from his former employer and was using it for financial gain without permission.

Example #2. Rick and Susan used to work at a healthcare clinic and insurance company, respectively. When they quit their jobs, they copied information about their respective company’s patients and clients and took that information with them. Then Rick founded his own health care clinic and Susan landed a job at a competing insurance company. Both Risk and Susan use the personal information of the patients and clients taken from their former company’s computers and use that information for financial gain, marketing purposes, and/or career advancements.

Example #3. Jimmy believes that his wife is cheating on him. On a Friday night, when his wife told him she was going to meet with her girlfriends in one of the restaurants in Palo Alto, Jimmy hacks into the video surveillance system of the restaurant to see if his wife is with another man. This would be unauthorized access to the restaurant’s computer systems.

Types of computer crimes in California

There are several types of computer crimes in California, which are punishable by law. Consult with an experienced computer crime defense attorney in Los Angeles or elsewhere in California to determine what legal options are available in your case.

California criminal law prohibits the following activities and defines them as computer crime:

  • Knowingly and intentionally gaining access and without permission deleting, altering, editing, destroying or otherwise using any computer data, the computer, computer system, software, programs, network or other for any of the following purposes: extortion, fraud, deception, financial gain, or to obtain property or data
  • Knowingly and intentionally using, accessing, taking, copying, computer data and files without permission
  • Knowingly, intentionally, and without permission disrupting or causing the shutdown of computer services or in any other way interfering with the normal operation of computer services to an authorized user
  • Knowingly and intentionally inserting a virus, worm or any other type of a computer contaminant into a computer, system, network, or data
  • Knowingly, intentionally, and without permission using someone else’s login information, identity or Internet domain name to distribute emails, messages, or in any other communications with unsuspecting persons to deceive, extort, defraud them or damage a computer, system, or network
  • Knowingly and intentionally helping someone else access computer or computer data to commit any or several of the crimes mentioned above.

As you may have noticed, many types of computer crimes outlined in California’s Penal Code 502 PC are open to interpretation, which is why many people in California get falsely accused of computer crimes and are punished simply because they lack knowledge about California laws.

It is advised to speak to a Los Angeles computer crime defense attorney to find out your best legal options to defend yourself. Do not give up just yet. Contact the Okabe & Haushalter law firm for a free case evaluation. Call our offices at 310-430-7799 or complete this contact form today.