I have someone’s password. Is it a computer crime to use it? I figured out someone’s password. Is it a crime to log in? It depends. Both California law and federal law guide whether you could find yourself on the wrong side of the answer.
Computer crime laws are generally aimed at actions that damage, destroy or interfere with computer data or operation. But they also include using or misusing of the data stored on the computer or network. These laws make a broad range of computer activities without permission illegal, such as unauthorized access; computer trespassing; data copying; hacking; installing virus, adware, or spyware; denial of services, and phishing.
Unauthorized access means trespassing into a computer without consent, and retrieving data, storing data, communicating with, intercepting, or changing data or software. Hacking is breaking into a computer system with the intention of maliciously altering, damaging, or disrupting the computer system or networks.
Under the definition of unauthorized access, using someone’s password without consent of the user – or of the network owner – could be committing a criminal act.
In California two major laws apply: the Computer Data Access and Fraud Act (Penal Code § 502); and Senate Bill 2016 S.B. 1137, which makes installing ransomware a standalone crime. California is just one of two states that have specific ransomware statutes.
Under the CDAFA it is a crime to knowingly and without permission:
In addition, California Business & Professions Code §§ 22948 to 22948.3, known as the Anti-Phishing Act, include specific laws aimed at using email or web pages to steal personal information. Personal information is defined as:
Just because you have you have someone’s password and use it doesn’t mean you are automatically committing a crime. But do beware. Computer crime laws are complex and you can unwittingly cross over into computer crime territory by logging into a computer or network that isn’t your own.
And, just because a network user gives you a password, doesn’t mean the computer service or network owner is granting you permission to access and use their system.
Jeremy N. Goldman has 20 years of criminal defense experience and is certified as a specialist in criminal law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Get a no-cost consultation on any computer crime or criminal matter. Call 949-387-6670 today or contact us online by email here.
Serving Orange County including Irvine, Laguna Niguel, Tustin, Anaheim, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Mission Viejo, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana, Westminster, Fullerton, Aliso Viejo, Buena Park, and Laguna Beach.
OC Criminal Lawyer Disclaimer: The legal information presented on this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Any results portrayed here were dependent on the facts of a particular legal matter and results vary from case to case. Please contact Attorney Jeremy N. Goldman for a consultation on your particular legal matter. This web site is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of California.