Thursday, May 19, 2005

Investigating a Possible Computer Crime

When it comes to computer crimes such as theft of computer data, one question that can be presented to prosecutors is - where to charge a computer crime?  A second issue likely to arise is - what happens when the accused is not aware that what they were doing was really illegal?    

The Washington Post reports here the latest on the investigation into an alleged theft of data from LexisNexis, Inc.  Federal agents executed search warrants of computers across the country.   Exactly what, if anything, they found remains to be seen.

But if they did find evidence that implicates individuals, it is likely that these two issues will arise.   

1. Do you charge a computer crime where the keystroke occurs, where the theft of a password may have occurred, the place where the computer message was sent through, the location of the Internet Service Provider (ISP), or the location of the ultimate harm.  Oftentimes, prosecutors will have their choice, a choice that may not be present except in cases such as conspiracy or RICO. 

2. And what happens when the government seizes a computer and the individual may say they have no clue that what they were doing was illegal.  Is ignorance of the law an excuse when the crime is a complicated computer offense? 

It will be interesting to follow the investigation surrounding LexisNexis to see if these two issues become the hot issues of any potential cases that might come from this investigation.


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