Los Angeles Cell Phone and Social Media Crimes

Cell phone More and more activities are occurring online, though most people still think of crime as something that happens in the “real” world. When people think of computer crimes, they tend to imagine hackers with extensive computer knowledge sneaking past network security to steal valuable information. And because most people don’t consider themselves “hackers,” they assume that they are safe from cyber prosecution.

However, Los Angeles computer crime law is extremely broad. As most legislators do not understand the nuances of computer networks, the law was written to include an extremely wide array of activities. This allows a prosecutor to try and fit all sorts of behaviors into a criminal mold. An individual without a knowledgeable defense attorney could end up with a criminal conviction for conduct assumed to be minor or harmless.

It’s not hacking. Can it still be a crime?

When someone leaves their social media profile open on a computer or phone, it is a common prank for friends to post nonsense on that profile. This is generally considered a harmless behavior. But what if the message is hurtful? What if the “friend” that invades the user’s profile isn’t really such a good friend, and didn’t have the right to post such a message? What is someone is extremely protective of their online persona?

Or what about situations that are more vindictive? A spurned lover, who still knows the password to his ex-girlfriend’s accounts. Partners in a failed business venture, that have seen each other’s professional and personal profile log-ins. What happens when the new girlfriend’s messages are read, or when cruel messages are sent out by the intruder? Or when a woman just wants to delete photos of her from her ex’s page? What happens when resume entries are deleted, or if entry-level entries are populated into a manager’s professional profile? When these alterations result in lost relationships or lost jobs? What are the consequences for exposing that a youtuber’s followers are bots? And what if that information was obtained without permission, and the youtuber beings to lose ad revenue?

Is a Cell Phone a Computer? Is Instagram a Computer Network?

Penal Code § 502 makes unauthorized access to computer networks a crime. Under the many provisions of this code section, there is protection for business and government entities, and reference to traditional hacking and the introduction of viruses and worms. But it also protects individual user profile and domain names from unauthorized access. The definitions, while broad, are in line with common understanding of social media usage.

Penal Code § 502(a)(15)(B) describes a profile as, “[a]n Internet website user’s personal page or section of a page that is made up of data, in text or graphical form, that displays significant, unique, or identifying information, including, but not limited to, listing acquaintances, interests, associations, activities, or personal statements.” And computer networks include communication between mobile devices. The definitions in the Penal Code clearly identify cell phones as computers, and all social media platforms as computer networks.

Social Media Felony

Most people would not be surprised to find out that in Los Angeles it is a felony to break into a network for the purpose of theft or extortion. But according to Penal Code § 502(c)(2), it can be a felony to “make use of” any data from a computer or network obtained without permission. This vague and broad language can include an almost limitless array of behaviors. Depending on the loss to a user, it can be a misdemeanor or a felony to use computer services without permission. Both deleting and adding data to a website or profile can be charged as a felony. It is a misdemeanor to even access a network or system without permission, or to help someone else gain access.

The decision makers are police officers and prosecutors. They decide what type of online behaviors are criminal, and which should be charged as felonies. With such vague language, a great deal of power is given to members of law enforcement that does not fully understand the computer age or modern online etiquette. A common behavior may be shocking to a prosecutor that is completely unfamiliar with online culture, and serious charges may be filed. This is especially true if an accuser uses the words “cyber-bullying,” “online harassment,” or “threatening on social media.” These phrases have little legal significance, but when combined with vague statutes and over-zealous prosecutors, a bad day on the internet can be treated as a crime spree.

If charged with any form of cell phone, social media, or computer crime, it is extremely important that you have a knowledgeable defense attorney on your side, to analyze they way that technology was used, gather the facts, and to educate law enforcement on the many defenses to computer crimes, and the innocent explanations to social media behavior.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with this offense, it is crucial that you speak with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who knows how to effectively defend charges of this nature.

For more information about unauthorized computer access and fraud, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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