Cybersecurity and digital crime have been hot-button topics in recent years. Large-scale attacks on personal information are becoming more commonplace, which has created the need for states to develop legislation regarding computer crime. Pennsylvania’s computer crimes statutes make many unauthorized activities involving computers illegal. Since technology evolves quickly, these laws adapt to reflect the latest changes in the digital world. Here is an overview of computer crimes laws and their punishments in the state of Pennsylvania:
Denial of Service or Disruption of Service
Pennsylvania law makes it illegal for individuals to purposefully deny or disrupt services in a computer or computer network. Unauthorized access to data while in transmission or at rest is also a computer crime. Collectively, the following activities are referred to as hacking and are illegal under Pennsylvania (and federal) law:
- Introducing a virus or malware into a computer system
- Accessing computer programs for the purpose of copying, redistributing, damaging, using, or modifying
- Using a computer to defraud an individual
- Using encryption to aid criminal activity
- Interfering with anyone’s access or use of a computer
- Falsifying an email source
- Stealing information from a service provider
Pennsylvania law also specifically forbids the sale and distribution of computer software, malware, viruses, or other program designed to damage a computer, a computer system, or a network.
Hacking activity is only one form of computer crime. Another that is gaining widespread media attention is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is defined as threatening or intimidating behavior that takes place over the digital space. It can occur through social media, texting, applications, or games. Sending, sharing or posting false or harmful information about someone else is cyberbullying, and at times it crosses into criminal behavior. According to Pennsylvania law, some forms of cyberbullying can be charged as harassment.
Another type of computer crime is the distribution of pornography. Both state and federal law strictly prohibit the production, possession, distribution, and resale of pornography that portrays a minor under the age of 18. Increasingly, prosecutors are using child pornography laws to punish people who use the internet or other digital means to share, use, or distribute pornographic content involving children.
Penalties Under Pennsylvania Law
The punishment you can expect for these offenses varies widely depending on the nature of the crime and the amount of damages victims incurred. Many of the computer crimes outlined in Pennsylvania statutes are charged as third-degree felonies. These offenses carry a term of imprisonment of up to seven years, as well as fines.
When computer crimes lead to the theft of personal financial information, the punishment may also include restitution to the victims. The defendant might, upon conviction, have to pay for the cost of repairs, data restoration, or lost profits.
Cyberbullying, when charged as harassment, is a misdemeanor under Pennsylvania law. Child pornography is a federal crime and is subject to federal prosecution, often resulting in time in federal prison, as well as mandatory sex offender registration. Computer crimes, in their varying forms, are serious offenses under Pennsylvania law.