Computer crimes growing in state
A Union County man was recently convicted in circuit court of “posting an injurious message,” in this case putting nude photos of a woman on Facebook without her permission.
Andrew Daniel, 46, was sentenced to five years in prison, although the sentence was reduced to time already served and he was placed on five years’ supervised probation. He could have come out worse.
Prior to learning of this conviction, it is likely most Mississippi residents were unaware such a law was even on the books.
In fact, Title 97 Chapter 45 of the Mississippi Code now defines a range of computer-related crimes and punishments to be assessed for them.
It includes computer fraud, crimes against computer users or against computer equipment itself, crimes involving intellectual property, cyberstalking, posting injurious messages, identity theft, online impersonation and “skimming” information from the magnetic strips on credit and similar cards.
Perhaps the most familiar of the crimes is identity theft, something that is the subject of TV commercials and private services that claim to protect one’s identity from electronic crime.
Identity theft is improperly obtaining another’s personal information and using it to obtain credit, to buy or lease property, to get a job, to access medical records or commit any other illegal act.
Personal identity information can be a Social Security number, driver’s license number or state personal identification card number, employment information or financial information including a savings or checking account number, financial transaction device account number or stock or other security certificate or account number. A computer is not required for identity theft; it can be done by copying credit card information in a store or “dumpster diving” to find discarded information in the trash or taking it directly from mailboxes.
But the electronic form seems to be most common.
Violation of this law is a felony punishable by imprisonment for not less than two nor more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.
If the violation involves an amount of less than $250, the perpetrator may be found guilty of a misdemeanor instead, punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a term of not more than six months, or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or both, in the discretion of the court.
The level of the crime is determined by the value of everything improperly obtained plus the value of everything the perpetrator has even attempted to obtain. The guilty party may also be required to pay restitution in addition to any other fines or costs.
The identity theft section of the law provides some other relief for victims, including expunging the record of any false financial charges run up by the perpetrator as well as any criminal charges or convictions for the victim that result from the identity theft.
Probably almost as familiar, due to print and TV exposure, is the crime of cyberstalking.
That means sending electronic mail or other communication that contains language threatening to inflict bodily harm to a person of family member of that person, or to cause harm to an individual’s property, or for the purpose of extorting money or something else of value. A person can be guilty of threatening, harassing or terrifying a person regardless of whether there is conversation. Cyberstalking also includes electronically making false statements about death or illness, or indecent or criminal activity and sending that to someone in the person’s household.
Conviction for cyberstalking, which is also a felony, can bring a penalty of imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine of not more than $ 5,000, or both.
If the offense is in violation of a restraining order, violation of probation or parole, results in a credible threat or the person making the threat has previously convicted of cyberstalking, the punishment can be imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.
The crime of cyberstalking does not apply to any peaceable, nonviolent, or nonthreatening activity intended to express political views or to provide lawful information to others.
Two newer crimes that are becoming more familiar are that of posting of messages through electronic media for purpose of causing injury to any person, and online impersonation.
The crime of posting injurious messages or images on Facebook or other social media is a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.
Simple online impersonation is pretending to be another actual person, especially for the purposes of harming, threatening or defrauding. That includes opening an email, social network or other account in another’s name. This crime is only considered a misdemeanor with a fine of not less than $250 and not exceeding $1,000 or by imprisonment for not less than 10 days and not more than one year, or both.
Although initially less personal, crimes involving the technology only can be just as damaging.
One form of this is basic computer fraud.
That is accessing a computer or computer system (which includes the internet) with the intent to defraud; obtain money, property or services by means of false or fraudulent conduct, or inserting malicious programming code into a computer or system with the intent to alter or damage it. This is more generally referred to as “hacking.”
Conviction can bring a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or by both. But when the damage or loss or attempted damage or loss amounts to a value of $500 or more, a conviction means a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
The law also defines crimes against computer users. That includes the intentional denial of access to a computer user as with using stolen passwords or codes.
Conviction for crime against a computer user can bring a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or both. But when the damage or loss amounts to a value of $100 or more, the punishment may be a fine of not more than $10,000, or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
Separate from crime against a computer user is a crime against computer equipment itself.
That includes the intentional modification or destruction, without consent, of computer equipment or supplies intended for use in a computer or system.
The punishment for that is a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment for not more than six months or both. When the damage or loss amounts to a value of $100 or more, the punishment may be a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
A newer crime that may be a little more difficult to pin down is the offense against intellectual property. This is usually thought of as being a company’s trade secrets or perhaps books or movie screenplays. Under Mississippi law, intellectual property includes computer programming and software, trade secrets, confidential or copyrighted material or other proprietary information stored electronically.
A crime against intellectual property includes intentional destruction or unapproved modification, disclosure or copying of the material. Punishment includes a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or both. When the damage or loss amounts to a value of $100 or more, the offender may be punished, upon conviction, by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
The last section of the law deals with using a scanning or other device to capture information from the magnetic strip on a credit, debit or payment card. Such devices are sometimes surreptitiously placed inside gas pumps or ATM machines to record customer data.
Violation of the law is a felony punishable by imprisonment not to exceed five years, a fine not to exceed $10,000, or both.
Anyone who obstructs or otherwise interferes with an investigation into these crimes by concealing or destroying documents, files or other evidence will be considered guilty of a felony.
Upon conviction, the person can be punished by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by imprisonment for not more than five years, or by both.
Anyone who uses bribery, force or other means to obstruct or prevent communication relevant to an investigation from being conveyed to the attorney general’s office, or who injures another person for the same reason, will also be considered guilty of a felony.
The penalty for that is a fine of not more than $5,000 or by imprisonment for not more than five years, or by both.
Any documents the attorney general gathers in one of these investigations, along with subpoenas, will remain confidential, with limited access and be exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983.
About Lynn West
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