Computers are increasingly central to our lives, as we not only use them for more and more things, but (as in the case of smartphones) have them by our side at all times. Accordingly, cyber crime is rising exponentially.
Computer crimes, however, tend to be more difficult for law enforcement and the criminal justice system to track and prosecute than traditional crimes. Additionally, cyber crime is rapidly evolving, so it is difficult for lawmakers to pass legislation quickly enough to keep up.
In Colorado, we’ve actually had a computer crimes statute on the books for decades: COL. REV. STAT. §18-5.5-101. This statute identifies and prohibits these types of crimes, and unsurprisingly had been amended numerous times since it was created.
It is important to note that many cyber crimes are actually tried on the federal level, as they often cross state lines and/or involve the commission of federal offenses, but in this post we’re going to focus on Colorado charges and penalties.
What Exactly Is a Computer Crime?
Quite simply, a computer crime is an illegal act that uses computers, networks, or the internet to commit unlawful activities. This includes a broad variety of offenses, such as hacking, internet scams, and copyright infringement.
Computers are also used increasingly to commit other crimes, such as money laundering, drug trafficking, embezzlement, identity theft, and sex crimes, in which case these offenses can also be considered computer crimes.
Knowingly doing any of the following is considered computer crime in the state of Colorado:
- Accessing a computer, network or system without authorization or in excess of authorized access or use.
- Accessing a computer, network, or system with the purpose of defrauding.
- Accessing a computer, network, or system to attain by false or fraudulent pretenses money, services, property, passwords, or other credentials by which a computer, network, or system may be accessed.
- Accessing a computer, network, or system to commit theft.
- Accessing a computer, network, or system without authorization or in excess of authorized access or use to damage, interrupt, or impair the proper functioning of any computer, computer system, computer network, software, program, application, or data.
- Causing the transmission of software, programs, information, codes, data, or commands with the intent to damage, interrupt, or impair the proper functioning of any computer, computer system, computer network, software, program, application, or data.
- Using or transmitting a software application that runs automated tasks on the internet which access a computer, network, or system to circumvent or disable electronic queues, waiting periods, or other measures intended by the merchant to limit the number of event tickets that may be purchased by a single individual in an online event ticket sale.
If the loss or damage resulting from these crimes is less than $100, they are charged as Class 3 misdemeanors.
If the damage is between $100 and $500, these offenses are changed as Class 2 misdemeanors.
If the damage is between $500 and $15,000 the offense is charged as a Class 4 felony, and damages in excess of $15,000 are charged as a Class 3 felony.
Does Colorado’s Computer Crime Law Go Too Far?
Colorado’s computer crime law is farther reaching than the federal statute and the laws of many other states. Importantly, cyber crime here encompasses not only unauthorized access, but also authorized access that exceeds authorized use.
This means that even if you access the computer, network, or system with authorization, you are still committing a crime if you perform any action that you are not authorized to perform. It is a distinction could lead many Coloradans to inadvertently commit computer crimes by unknowingly reaching beyond their authorized privileges.
If you or a loved one have been accused of a computer crime, retain the best available legal counsel as soon as possible. An experienced Colorado defense attorney can make sure that your rights are protected during the investigation, and may even be able to get your case thrown out.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.