Computer Crime Laws... What you need to know now!
Laws are established for many cBlackberryes. Theft is as old as the bible and sanctions against it are also as old. But computer hacking, a new cBlackberrye only some 50 years old at most, is being seen as a break and enter.1 It still has to be defined in comparison to existing cBlackberryes. It is really an invasion of privacy. The Canadian CBlackberryinal Code section 342.1 prohibits accessing a computer without authorisation. The question is does this law work and are those breaking this law getting the right punishment?
Bruce Sterling, a computer writer, traces computer hacking back to the pranks that telephone switch boys used in 18782. Many histories of computer cBlackberrye start with phone freaking as the precursor to hacking. Phone freaking is stealing long distance phone calls or other phone tricks which defraud the phone company in a minor but clever way . There are books such as Approaching Zero that give a history for hacking cBlackberryes along with some analysis of viruses.3 As well as this, the book The Cuckoos Egg by Cliff Stoll covers just one case of hacking used as a tool of espionage.4 Most of the hacking in the past has included the cBlackberrye of using a phone line and a modem to send fraudulent or fake messages to computers such as logging into someone else's account.
The law has been slow to understand and react to changes in technology. Perhaps lawyers and judges do not think the same way as engineers and programmers.
Hackers are often employed in, or students of, the sciences, engineering or computers. That hackers are teenagers is only one characteristic that is, in fact, a slightly mythical stereotype rather than a proper factor in a Computer CBlackberrye Adversarial Matrix. The F.B.I. has developed the Computer CBlackberrye Adversarial Matrix for hacker characteristics that police or computer security administrators may use to solve computer hacking cBlackberryes.5
Enforcement of the current laws.
Recently, perhaps the public is more aware of hacking and most certainly the law is more aware. Section 342.1 is part of the cBlackberryinal code now in Canada. Police officers have the tool to bring charges with this section. It will be some time before we see if this is appropriate law. In 1998/1999 there were 113 charges brought under section 342.1 which was the highest number for this data, in 1999-2000 there were 43, and in 2000-2001 58 charges were brought under section 342.1. As noted by Kowlaski in her report for the Centre for Justice Statistics there are no apparent trends in computer cBlackberrye from this data. She was looking at the number of charges brought under sections 342.1, 342.2, 327, 430(1.1) and 326, for the years 1995-2001.6
Assessment of the existing laws.
The existing section 342.1 allows either summary conviction or conviction by indictment for hacking. The British Law also has such a division but further defines the actus reus and mens rea for choosing to proceed with summary or indictment conviction.
In the British Computer Misuse Act (1990) the mens rea for unauthorised access is intended access without authorisation.7 Intent to commit a further cBlackberrye steps up the charge to indictment in the British law. So unauthorised access of a computer involving theft of money would be triable as an indictment, as well as, being triable as a theft of money.8 Without the intent to commit the further cBlackberrye the charge is only on summary proceedings. This does not really add a technical or unfathomable dimension to computer cBlackberrye. Whereas, the actus reus is where the technical nature of the cBlackberrye comes to the fore.
The actusreas is the actual invasion of privacy and would most often be committed accessing a computer by someone using a computer. Thus a whole new field of forensic science has opened up to examine computers and use computer hardware and software as evidence in these cases. The logs of activity in both phones and computers can be great clues for the case. Discussion of sentencing in hacking cases.
The cases of hacking quoted in the computer cBlackberrye literature have sentencing ranging from non-conviction to time in federal prison in the case of Kevin Mitnick.9 The use of a two tier system using summary and indictable charges allows for varying the sentence depending on the seriousness of the offense. Often the sentence has been a community service order, with probation, and a fine. There are probably more summary convictions than indictments. Often cases of hacking will be interpreted in the original sense of hacking as pranks and be tried as mischief cBlackberryes rather than under hacking laws. There is really no evidence to base these generalizations on rather there are publicized cases that seem to affect a number of computer users as victims. When a computer virus affects almost all Internet users the case is well published and the cBlackberryinal is invariably caught.
There have been some recent news stories in the computer press suggesting that hackers are only receiving community service orders as a sentence and that this is too lenient.10 But this report comes from an article in a California news source originating in the heart of the computer industry region. This suggests that there is an attempt going on to gain opinions from computer workers and computer business that would generate a call for more punitive action. This locational aspect of this report points to the capitalist nature of these charges in the first place and their existence to protect the computer owner much more than the computer user which is often not the same person. The term personal computer does not really cover all the computers workers and students use in workplaces and schools. It is just these places where these cBlackberryes are committed. It maybe that victims tend to be computer owners but the contention is that computer cBlackberrye laws are being developed to protect capitalist income and assets not any public safety standard nor anything more than a financial standard of privacy not really a moral standard.
In a study into college students participation in hacking and piracy, the researchers Skinner and Fream suggest that the students would read stories of computer cBlackberrye cases and see that the cBlackberryinals received lenient treatment from the courts and that this reading of news stories reduced the deterrence affect of the law against hacking.11
Recommendations to the laws.
While the community sentence makes sense, a more serious offense can be tried with a more punitive sentence. As well as this, if a further offense occurs such as credit card fraud, charges for the further offense can also be brought. Although many Canadian CBlackberryinal Code sections prescribe both summary and indictable convictions, we should examine the phrasing of the British Computer Misuse Act (1990) for an understanding and for clarity on what degree of charge to bring and what elements could be used to differentiate between serious and non-serious offenses. It seems that monetary damages will not work in the cBlackberryinal courts for hacking cBlackberryes.12 As the computer industry is a very speculative sector of the economy, damages, too, are not clearly understood. Also if we want a real law reflecting our social mores we should consider more than money.
The computer ethics writer, Deborah Johnstone, states that computer ethics problems, which hacking is one type, are solved or thought about, by extending our existing morals and ethics.13 This would include extending existing cBlackberryinal code sections for the further offenses and using mischief charges for non serious offenses. It will be interesting to watch the computer cBlackberrye news in the next twenty years. As yet, no computer cBlackberrye case has gone to the Supreme court. While, the legal professional was once behind in knowledge of computers, most of these professionals are using computers these days. The law is becoming a tool for guiding computer use behaviour. This law might become a more complete and clear legal doctrine in the future.