While reading posts on my Google+ account today I noticed defendants in various parts of the country facing stiff sentences for computer related crimes. Take for instance the case of Jared James Abrahams, a nineteen year old California man and college student who recently pleaded guilty to a computer based extortion scheme. Abrahams was accused of taking over webcams by infecting computers with malware, then capturing the victims disrobing and extorting them for more photos under the threat of publishing the photos. It was also alleged that Abrahams demanded victims get onto Skype and do as he requested, again under the threat of exposing the illicitly accessed images. Abrahams is looking at thirty-three months in federal prison for the commission of these crimes. Victims identified on Abrahams computer equipment, one of whom was a minor, were from all over the world.
In another case, known computer hacker Jeremy Hammond could end up with a ten year sentence for hacking into computers and stealing tens of thousands of credit card numbers. The financial losses calculated by the government directly attributable to Hammond’s actions could be reach two and one half million dollars. Hammond’s lawyers claim that his efforts were part of his social activism, not for personal gain and not initiated maliciously. Rather, it was part of a nonviolent protest that should be punished as such. The government is seeking a sentence of ten years for Hammond, significantly more than the twenty months being requested by his legal team.
So what does this tell you about the state of computer crimes right now? Well obviously they are being taken very seriously by prosecutors. Both of these unrelated cases are being prosecuted by the federal government. The sentences being requested are staggering regardless of the motive or sensitivities of the defendants. Abrahams suffers from a documented case of autism for which he has been treated for over ten years. Hammond is motivated by social forces and has not profited from his actions. Nevertheless, prosecutors want blood. They want lengthy sentences. This trend is consistent not only in federal courts but in state courts including Massachusetts. The message district attorneys want to send is clear; virtual trespassing, no matter what the motive will not be tolerated and deserves sever punishment.
So how are these cases defended? Usually by challenging the validity of the search warrant the permits the police access to your electronic/computer equipment. Fight to show an absence of probable cause and improper issuance of the search warrant. Additionally, you might be able to defend these cases by showing that the government has failed to establish that you are in fact the person who committed the acts, regardless of what is on the computer.