Are There Laws Prohibiting Non-Consensual Access to or Use of Another Person’s Phone? What Are the Potential Penalties?
Hackers are getting more sophisticated every day. While communications ostensibly from the IRS or Social Security Administration should immediately be considered bogus, as well as those proclaiming that you’ve been chosen Amazon’s customer of the year, many hackers are now able to mimic legitimate senders. If you click on a link in a text message or email, you can open the door to a hacker, with disastrous consequences.
Is hacking someone’s phone a crime? If so, what laws apply and what are the potential penalties?
What Constitutes Hacking?
At its most basic level, hacking is simply obtaining access to a computer or computer system that is not yours or that you don’t have permission to use. As a general rule, hacking is illegal. An exception is what is commonly referred to as “ethical hacking,” where the person making unpermitted use of someone else’s computer may lack permission of the owner, but otherwise has legal authority. For example, a court or law enforcement agency may give a hacker permission to access a computer or data files pursuant to a criminal investigation. Without such authority, though, any non-consensual access or use of a computer is illegal.
What Laws Govern Hacking?
There are three principal federal laws that deal with hacking:
- The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)—Enacted in 1986, this law was originally intended to prevent hacking into computer systems of the federal government and American financial institutions, but it has been expanded to include virtually any type of computer found in the United States, including laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones. The CFAA bans a wide range of activity, from hacking a computer to obtain access to national security information to computer fraud, extortion, password theft, and unpermitted access to information.
- The Stored Communications Act (SCA)—This federal law protects “data at rest,” which can include emails, text messages, social media accounts, instant messages, blogs and data in cloud computing. The SCA addresses unauthorized use of or access to email by company employees, password theft of the unauthorized use of digital passwords, and other common types of stored data breaches.
- The Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)—This statute addresses the improper use of or access to “data in motion” or transmission, limiting wiretapping and the unauthorized interception of digital signals or information.
State Regulation of Hacking
All states have laws establishing computer-based crimes, though hacking is treated more seriously in some states than in others. Typical state laws prohibit unauthorized access to a computer, as well as the introduction of viruses/malware into another person’s computer. Such crimes may be a misdemeanor or a felony, typically based on the financial loss caused by the hacking. In Texas, for example, a person can be charged with a third-degree felony for “electronic access interference,” which involves an intentional interruption or suspension of access to a computer system or network without the owner’s permission.
What Are the Penalties for Illegal Hacking?
Under federal law, the penalties for conviction will vary, based on the type of offense and the number of convictions. Some crimes, such as “intentionally damaging a computer by knowing transmission” can carry a 10-year prison sentence for the first conviction. All crimes have penalties of at least one year of incarceration for the first offense, though some assess a five-year prison term for the first conviction.
Contact the Proven Criminal Defense Lawyers at Bailey & Galyen
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