Defending Against Computer Crime Charges In Texas
Computer crimes in Texas involve a wide range of activities, from breaches of security to online solicitation of crimes. Texas law is constantly changing to keep up with the pace of technology and technology-related crimes, and law enforcement agencies are constantly on the lookout for violations of Texas computer crime laws. Unfortunately, our ever-expanding technological resources also give criminals more resources to commit crimes against others. Texas ranks among the Top 5 nationally for computer crimes, with over $100 million in cybercrime-related financial losses suffered each year.
Due to the wide range of potential computer-related offenses, it is possible that a defendant may find themselves under investigation or arrest due to a mistake or misunderstanding. In some cases, a defendant may not know that their actions could have been a potential violation of Texas law.
Under Chapter 33 of the Texas Penal Code, the following offenses could be charged as crimes in a Texas court of law:
- Breach of Computer Security. This involves knowingly accessing a computer, computer network, or computer system without the effective consent of the owner. This is what most people refer to as “hacking”. Gaining unauthorized access to a computer system to steal data or commit other wrongdoing is a crime under Texas and Federal law. However, it is possible that a person may have breached a system without knowing their access was unauthorized, or they were under the direction of someone else to use the computer system in a way that turned out to be wrong. This offense is generally a Class B misdemeanor under Texas law, but can be a state jail Felony if the person has prior offenses for the same crime, or was breaching the network of a government or critical infrastructure agency. Additionally, if the person was breaching security to actively commit fraud or larceny, they can be charged with a Felony.
- Electronic Data Tampering. This involves, essentially, altering data as it is transmitted between two computers within a network without any legitimate purpose. This is also known as “hacking”, and can involve the insertion of “ransomware” or other computer contaminants to wrongfully extract money or information from another person or system. The penalties for this offense can range from a Class C Misdemeanor to a First Degree Felony depending on the nature of the attack and the money potentially taken.
- Online Solicitation of a Minor. This involves the use of computer-assisted technology to communicate with a minor under the age of 17, if the alleged perpetrator is over 17 years old. Text messages, photos, social media messages, and other communications can be involved in a solicitation case. If the two parties are married, or if they are within 3 years of age, those are viable defenses to a solicitation charge. For example, if the alleged victim is 16 years old and her boyfriend is 18 years old, their communications may not be illegal under this Statute. Online solicitation of a minor can be charged as a Third Degree Felony, or a Second Degree Felony if the victim is under 14 years of age.
- Online Impersonation. This involves any attempt to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten another person by using another person’s name or persona. Common techniques include creating a fake social media profile or website to harass or extract information from another person, who believes they are communicating with the person named in the profile. This crime includes “catfishing” and other techniques that people may use online.
Defenses to Computer Crimes Under Texas Law
Defenses to computer-related crimes may include:
- Consent of the owner. If a person was accessing a computer system with the express or implied consent of the computer’s owner, this may constitute a viable defense to a criminal charge. Information technology staff accessing a system for diagnostic purposes also cannot be charged with a criminal breach of security, unless they were acting outside of the scope of their job.
- Work purposes. If the alleged violator was acting as an officer, employee, or agent of a communication common carrier or electric utility, they may be immune from prosecution under Section 33 of the Texas Penal Code. Law enforcement officers may also be immune if they were accessing a computer system or using an online persona as part of an investigation.
There may also be a number of other defenses, including entrapment, available to a person charged with any computer crime, depending on the circumstances of the case. In any situation, it is wise to proceed with the assistance of an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney that knows the law and what a defendant’s rights are in these cases.
Keith B. French Law, PLLC, Can Defend You in a Texas Computer Crime Case
Being charged with any type of computer crime can be a frightening experience, especially if you believe you did not commit any wrongdoing. At Keith B. French Law, our Pearland criminal lawyers will thoroughly review all aspects of your case, including data that the prosecution intends to use as evidence. Contact us today.