Computer and Internet Crimes

We represent people accused of crimes involving computers and the Internet. A range of federal and state laws, including Internet-specific statutes and general crimes that are committed using computers, may apply to this type of activity. Relevant federal laws include the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which covers hacking and other unauthorized access to or alterations of computer systems, as well as the general wire fraud statute. We are also familiar with state laws governing harassment, computer fraud, and theft, all of which may have a computer-related component.

Massachusetts’s wiretap statute makes it a felony to secretly hear or record an oral or wire communication without the consent of all parties to the communication. This law, among the broadest in the nation, can be violated when someone records a phone conversation without telling the other party. It can also come into play when a cell phone, webcam, or security camera captures video with sound. People generally do not think about wiretapping when taking a video, but individuals have been charged based on videos posted online or seized by authorities. A federal court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to record police in public, at least under some circumstances, but the contours of the right to record have not been developed. We strongly support the rights of free speech and free expression and fight to vindicate those rights as changing technology gives rise to criminal prosecutions in new contexts and situations.

One continually changing and developing area of the law is computer or internet-related crimes relating to children, including possession, sale, or distribution of child pornography, dissemination of material harmful to minors, and child enticement. Child enticement under M.G.L. c. 265, § 26C, means luring or inducing a child under age 16 to go somewhere or stay somewhere with the intent of committing a specified offense (such as statutory rape or indecent assault and battery). That broadly worded state law was aimed partly at adults seeking to meet children online for sexual purposes, and was passed in response to court decisions making it difficult for authorities to prove attempted rape charges. Child pornography, which broadly includes images or videos of people under age 18 engaging in sexual behavior, is banned under both federal and state law, and can lead to significant prison sentences. In addition, those convicted of these types of offenses frequently have to register as sex offenders. Because of these high stakes, we closely examine our clients’ situations for defenses to these charges. We explore whether questionable material has been downloaded to a computer inadvertently or as a result of a computer virus. If damaging information is obtained as a result of an illegal search, we can ask the court to suppress the evidence based on a violation of our clients’ constitutional rights. Depending on the nature of images or videos at stake, we consider whether we can argue that they are protected by the First Amendment or do not actually rise to the level of child pornography.

Online, computer, and Internet crimes can often be charged as serious felonies even for relatively innocuous conduct, as the unfortunate case of Aaron Swartz illustrates. They frequently involve complex and emerging legal issues, and persons accused of such offenses should seek out attorneys who are familiar with the law and the technology involved. If you have been charged or suspect you might be charged with a crime involving cell phones, computers, or the Internet, please call (617) 742-6020 to speak with an attorney.

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