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Unauthorized access to private computer services could be a crime

Although there are many federal laws regarding internet and computer crimes, California also has laws that address these types of activities. However, FindLaw explains that state conviction of a person who has allegedly violated the computer crime laws depends on the court's determination of whether the individual knowingly and with intent illegally performed the cybercrime with which he or she was charged.

Can someone unknowingly engage in a computer crime? Possibly. These offenses do not just include developing sophisticated code that attacks computer systems or sending out phishing emails in an attempt to gain people's financial information. Unlawfully accessing a computer that has sensitive or private information stored on it is also a computer crime.

For example, if an employee regularly logs onto a company computer using someone else's log-in information, and there are private records stored on the computer, that could be considered a computer crime unless the defense proves that the activity was done unknowingly or with proper authorization to perform job duties. It may not be a valid defense to claim that the person's use did not cause any damage, as this is not necessary to violate the law.

According to the California statutes, unauthorized use of private computer services such as data processing, storage, internet services, email or messaging services, or other uses of the network, system or the computer itself is against the law. The penalty for this violation, if the cost of the use is under $950, is to spend up to one year in a county jail and/or a fine of no more than $5,000. The more the value of the services that the unauthorized person uses, the higher the fine and the jail term. Subsequent offenses also increase the length of imprisonment and fine amounts.

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