Is it a Crime if Someone Uses My Computer without Permission: Cybercrime Law and New York Penal Law Article 156

It is a crime to use a computer without permission? The short answer is “depends.” if a person uses your computer without authorization he or she is potentially committing a crime. Of course, that statement needs clarification on many levels. First, must permission be express and is permission to use a computer carte blanche authorization to access anything and everything therein? Second, what the heck is a “computer” as it relates to the New York Penal Law? The answer to these questions and more is either codified in New York Penal Law Article 156 or the case law that interprets the criminal code. The following blog generally addresses the above questions and can serve as guidance for further discussion with a computer crime attorney.

Working back to front, understanding the legal definition of a computer is central to understanding the cybercrime law in New York. You needn’t expose yourself to an internet crime or or violate a computer related criminal statute before taking a look at this definition. A computer can by an Android device, iPhone, Mac, Microsoft Surface, Apple Watch or your old desktop network. It is of no consequences whether the computer in question is used or possessed for work purposes or personal exploits. Simply, in non-simple terms, New York Penal Law 156 defines a “computer” as any device or devices that can be manipulated by a computer program to automatically perform certain operations such as arithmetic equations, data storage or retrieval, and other functions. The actual definition, not quoted here, is described further in the Penal Code.

With this definition in mind, your next inquiry involves permission. The law specifically defines “without authorization.” In substance, if a user knows he does not have the authority to access a computer or network or has notice of the same, he doesn’t have authority. Moreover, the law allows a legal presumption that if a user circumvents a pass-code or other security system, it is assumed he did not have the right of access. Again, consult with your New York computer crime lawyer before relying on the vague description here.

Taking this a step further, the answer to the balance of the questions above relates to whether a wrongful user of your iPad, smartphone or laptop committed a crime when, for example, she accessed your photographs after you gave her permission to use the same for some other purpose. Without wading into the case law that interprets the statutes, unless you outline what a person can or cannot use, giving someone permission to use your iPhone, for example, may give them unfettered access to that phone. Obviously, many questions come into play and a case by case analysis is critical. For example, what if there are password protected materials, data, or images? Are these security features bypassed? Further, is accessing the same as deleting or taking? Moreover, what is the nature of the data secured?

Whether the criminal accusation or arrest involves the class “A” misdemeanors of Computer Trespass, New York Penal Law 156.05, or Computer Tampering in the Fourth Degree, New York Penal Law 156.20, or the “E” or “C” felonies of Unlawful Duplication of Computer Related Material in the First Degree, New York Penal Law 156.30, or Computer Tampering in the First Degree, New York Penal Law 156.27, respectively, there are many issues at play. Review the statutory defense outlined in New York Penal Law 156.50, consult with your legal counsel and determine what, if any crime, occurred. Only then will you have the ability to defend yourself against prosecution or, as a victim, build a case against a wrongdoer.

To learn more about any of the crimes referenced above, review Crotty Saland PC’s New York Computer Crime section of CrottySaland.Com. There you will valuable information on current computer offenses and laws.

Crotty Saland PC is a criminal defense firm representing clients in cybercrimes, computer offenses, and internet crimes throughout New York City, the Hudson Valley and other regions of New York State. Prior to establishing the law practice, both founding members served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

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