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Offenses Involving Computers

A 2005 decision of the Supreme Court of New York for Monroe County described the dawn of the computer crime era in New York, which began in 1986 with the introduction to the Penal Law of Article 156:

Article 156 was enacted in response to a burgeoning rash of computer crimes against businesses and private individuals, and also because the Penal Law at the time was woefully inadequate to address these computer crimes. Mem. of The Attorney General, Governor’s Bill Jacket, L.1986, ch. 514.

Rochester Linoleum and Carpet Center Inc. v. Springer
These so called “hacking” laws have subsequently been amended and there are now eight discrete offenses falling into the category of Offenses Involving Computers.

Key Penal Law Provisions: and Definitions

  • Unauthorized use of a computer – PL 156.05, a class A misdemeanor
  • Computer trespass – PL 156.10, a class E felony
  • Computer tampering in the fourth degree – PL 156.20, a class A misdemeanor
  • Computer tampering in the third degree – PL 156.25, a class E felony
  • Computer tampering in the second degree – PL 156.26, a class D felony
  • Computer tampering in the first degree – PL 156.27, a class C felony
  • Unlawful duplication of computer related material, PL 156.30, a class E felony
  • Criminal possession of computer material, PL 156.35, a class E felony
  • Computer, PL 156.00(1)
  • Computer program, PL 156.00(2)
  • Computer data, PL 156.00(3)
  • Computer service, PL 156.00(4)
  • Computer material, PL 156.00(5)
  • Computer network, PL 156.00(6)
  • Access, PL 156.00(7)
  • Without authorization, PL 156.00(8)

Unlawful use of a computer is an offense that may be charged where a person is accused of knowingly using, causing to be used, or accessing a computer, computer service, or computer network without authorization. PL 156.05. Computer trespassbuilds on the prior section, but with two additional elements, the presence of either of which may give rise to the felony charge: i) the intent to commit or attempt to commit or further the commission of a felony; or ii) the perprator knowingly gains access to computer material. Computer material, as defined in PL 156.00(5), is computer data or computer program that contains medical records, government records, or “is not and is not intended to be available to anyone other than the person or persons rightfully in possession thereof or selected persons having access thereto with his, her or their consent and which accords or may accord such rightful possessors an advantage over competitors or other persons who do not have knowledge or the benefit thereof.”

There are four degrees of computer tampering offenses known to New York law. The base charge, Computer tampering in the fourth degree, PL 156.20, states that a “person is guilty of computer tampering in the fourth degree when he or she uses, causes to be used, or accesses a computer, computer service, or computer network without authorization and he or she intentionally alters in any manner or destroys computer data or a computer program of another person.” This charge may apply to situations where a “hacker” maliciously enters in to a network with the intent not to appropriate computer data or a computer program, but to destroy it. If the hacker succeeds in destroying the computer material, destroys data worth over $1,000 tampers with the data with the intent to commit a felony, or has a previous conviction for certain specific computer-related offenses, the charge becomes third-degree tampering, a class E felony. As the monetary value of the destroyed or tampered-with property increases, so too does the gravity of the offense. PL 156.26 ($3,000, class D felony), PL 156.27 ($50,000, class C felony). Related charges include Unlawful duplication of computer related material, PL 156.30 and Criminal possession of computer related material, PL 156.35.

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