The United States Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984 Summary

Computer Fraud and Abuse ActBack when Madonna was twenty-something, long before personal computers were a thing, government officials were hard at work crafting anti-hacking legislation – The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The Computer Fraud And Abuse Act: The Early Years

Passed in 1984, bill 18 USC 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was enacted in an effort to reduce the cracking of government computer systems and other tech-related offenses. Originally, it focused on issues relating to the protection of federal computers and financial institutions. It also touched on interstate and foreign cybercrimes.

The Computer Fraud And Abuse Act: The Amendments

Since its inception, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has been amended six times; in 1988, 1994, 1996, 2001, 2002, and 2008.

The amendment of 1996 added the key term “non-public,” which recognized occurrences when an agency authorizes the public to access certain areas of the system. This amendment specifies that although a person has been granted access to the system, they were not permitted to commit criminal acts. By this, Congress specified that individuals can be punished under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act even if they had been granted access to a government-run computer system. The change clarified law enforcement lines, and allowed for the prosecution of individuals who committed unlawful acts on public computer systems.

The 2002 amendment, widely known as the Patriot Act, gave federal officials more leeway when it came to monitoring and prosecuting suspected cyber criminals. The 2008 amendment is referred to as the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act, which punishes individuals who conspire to commit cybercrimes, in addition to those who actually do the dirty work.

The Computer Fraud And Abuse Act: What Actions Does It Make Illegal?

Penalties under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act specify that any individual who is convicted of any actionable offense could face felony charges, including a ten-year prison sentence, a fine, or both.

What are some of the offenses outlined in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act? Basically, the regulation makes it illegal to access computers, without authorization, in an attempt to gather national security data, financial records, or any information about United States agencies. It also sets laws governing foreign or interstate communication. If an individual accesses a computer in an attempt to defraud the system or transmit programs, codes, commands, or information, they can also be punished under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The law under 18 USC 1030 covers numerous areas including (but not limited to):

  • computer espionage
  • computer trespassing
  • computer fraud
  • password trafficking
  • malicious virus spreading

The statute also includes three sub sections, which specify conspiratorial rules, penalties for actions and miscellaneous topics protected under the statute.

Today, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is often used in hacking, online privacy, and cyber espionage lawsuits.

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