The federal government has strict laws in place that criminalize certain types of behavior involving computers, computer systems and the internet, and the government’s broad definition of illegal cyber crime covers everything from computer hacking and identity theft to internet extortion and child pornography.
The potential consequences of a federal cyber crime conviction can have a disastrous impact on your reputation, your freedom, your rights and your future, so if you have been arrested or charged with an internet crime, don’t wait to seek knowledgeable legal counsel. To learn more about how to defend yourself against federal cyber crime charges or to schedule a free initial consultation with our federal internet crimes defense lawyers, contact Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers today.
Types of Federal Internet Crimes
The term “internet crime” is broadly defined as any crime that is committed through the use of the internet or that targets a computer, and many so-called internet crimes can be more specifically defined as sex crimes or fraud offenses, depending on the nature of the crime. Computer-related crimes are illegal at both the federal and state level in California. And while internet crime investigations by the FBI and other federal agencies typically target high-profile offenses like money laundering and fraud, virtually any crime committed through the use of the internet, as well as any crime that crosses state lines (even over the internet), can lead to federal charges. Other cyber crimes are federal in nature because the computer, server or system targeted by the crime belongs to the federal government or because the activity violates a specific federal statute.
One of the most common types of federal internet crime charges is for computer fraud or hacking. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S. Code § 1030) is the federal cybersecurity law that prohibits fraud and related activity in connection with computers. Under this law, it is illegal for any person to knowingly trespass in a government computer or access a computer without authorization or in excess of authorization (computer hacking) for the purpose of obtaining information, committing fraud or extortion, or negligently causing damage and loss, among other unlawful computer-related activities.
Possession or distribution of child pornography (18 U.S. Code § 2252) and other sex crimes, like luring or soliciting children (18 U.S. Code § 2422), can also result in internet crime charges if the internet is used to commit the crime. Other types of federal internet or computer crimes include the following:
• Credit card fraud
• Identity theft
• Internet extortion
• Investment fraud
• Money laundering
• Internet auction fraud
• Stalking, threatening or bullying
• Trafficking in passwords
• Obtaining national security information
• Ponzi/pyramid schemes
• Sexual exploitation of children
• Creating or distributing computer viruses
• Sex trafficking
• Human trafficking
Aggressive Government Investigation of Internet Crimes
Internet crime is one of the fastest growing areas of white-collar crime in the United States and the federal government has gone to great lengths to put a stop to these types of crimes. The FBI is the lead investigative agency for federal cyber crimes and the agency has specially trained cyber squads and task forces nationwide charged with combatting internet crimes and investigating computer intrusions, online fraud, theft of intellectual property and personal information, and child exploitation.
Whether you are surfing the web, visiting a chat room or downloading content from a peer-to-peer file-sharing program, you can bet that your internet activity is being monitored by the government. And if you are suspected of committing an internet crime like child pornography, identity theft or internet fraud, the government may obtain a search warrant to seize your computer as evidence. It is a common misconception that deleting a file or content from your computer destroys it forever. The truth is that the federal government has state-of-the-art technology capable of retrieving deleted data from your computer, as well as the time and resources necessary to thoroughly investigate and prosecute internet crime allegations.
In some cases, the FBI and other federal, state and local agencies may work together in a coordinated effort to root out cyber crime and punish offenders.
Criminal Penalties for Internet Crimes
The advent of the internet has made it possible (or, in some cases, easier) to commit certain crimes. Internet crimes are unique in that they can result in penalties for the cyber crime charge as well as penalties for the specific criminal act that was carried out through the use of the internet. For instance, if you are accused of stealing another person’s credit card information and using the credit card to make purchases online, you could face prosecution for both credit card fraud and an internet crime. Depending on the nature and severity of the internet crime, a conviction can result in a sentence of years or even decades in federal prison.
For example, if you are found guilty of illegally accessing a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access and thereby obtaining information “that has been determined by the United States Government pursuant to an Executive order or statute to require protection against unauthorized disclosure for reasons of national defense or foreign relations, or any restricted data, as defined in paragraph y. of section 11 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the to the United States” (18 U.S. Code § 1030(a)(1)), you could face a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years for a first offense. If you have a prior conviction for a federal computer fraud crime, you could be imprisoned in federal prison for up to 20 years.
Some of the most severe internet crimes carry mandatory minimum penalties, which are minimum prison terms established by Congress for certain serious offenses, namely drug trafficking crimes, violent crimes and child sex offenses.
For instance, a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 2252, the federal statute prohibiting the possession or distribution of child pornography, is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years, unless the defendant has a prior conviction for possession or distribution of child pornography, in which case the mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years and the maximum is 40 years.
Defending Against Internet Crime Charges
The federal government sees cyber crime as a threat to public safety, national security and the economy, and as internet crimes become more widespread and more sophisticated, the FBI and other federal investigative agencies have made it a priority to identify, investigate and mitigate such threats. That being said, the government’s power in prosecuting internet crimes is not boundless.
The only way federal prosecutors can get a conviction in a cyber crime case is to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In some cases, innocent individuals can end up entangled in an internet crimes investigation through no fault of their own. For instance, you could be arrested for a federal computer crime after a virus causes child pornography to be downloaded onto your computer without your knowledge, but you cannot be convicted if you did not knowingly commit the crime.
Our attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers have an in-depth understanding of anti-cyber crime laws in the United States and we have extensive experience defending clients against federal internet crime charges like computer fraud, identity theft and child pornography. We know how to assert a strong defense against internet crime charges in order to get the charges reduced or dismissed or mitigate the criminal penalties you face. The following are three common legal defenses against federal internet crime charges:
• Coercion – You were forced to commit the internet crime under threat of harm or punishment to yourself or a loved one.
• Authorization – You are accused of illegally accessing a computer to obtain information, but you were authorized to access the information.
• Lack of knowledge – Many internet crimes, like credit card fraud, require that the defendant “knowingly” committed the crime, meaning he knew what he was doing was a crime and he intended to commit the crime. In the case of credit card fraud, if you didn’t know the credit card was stolen, altered or counterfeit, you did not commit a criminal act.
How Our Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help
Internet and computer crimes are aggressively pursued and punished by the federal government and it is in your best interest to contact an attorney at the first sign of an internet crimes investigation by the FBI or another federal agency.
Navigating the federal criminal process can be stressful and challenging, especially for first-time offenders, and the consequences of a conviction can be life changing. You will want a knowledgeable federal criminal defense lawyer on your side from the very start, to protect your rights and advise you on the most effective legal strategy for your specific situation. Contact Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers as soon as possible to discuss your case with our qualified criminal defense attorneys. We have extensive experience defending clients against criminal charges in federal court and we can use our unparalleled skill and expertise to your advantage in your internet crimes case.