Is Computer Hacking a Serious Crime in Chicago?

The Chicago Tribune recently reported about a young man living in Chicago who recently plead guilty to computer hacking.  The defendant, James Hammond, admitted to hacking into law enforcement agency and intelligence firms websites.  The information “hacked” was 60,000 credit card numbers and millions of company emails.

Hammond proclaims his acts as politically motivated civil disobedience.  The reality is much more dire, however, because he now faces a decade in prison for his so-called activism.

So what exactly is the law on computer hacking?  Is it considered theft to steal information or is it a civil crime to invade privacy?

Illinois Law

The Illinois Legislature passed a law in the 1990’s titled the “Computer Crime Prevention Law” to define this area of law.  Essentially the statute criminalizes unauthorized computer use, categorized into three different offenses.

First is the crime of computer tampering, which makes it illegal to access a computer, program, or data without the owner’s permission.  Unauthorized access alone is a misdemeanor offense.  Accessing data is a misdemeanor for the first offense, but become a felony for any subsequent violations.  Crimes that are always a felony include destroying, tampering, or removing a computer, program, or data.  This last set of offenses includes the deployment of a computer virus to tamper with computer operations.

Next, the law defines aggravated computer tampering, which is the above activities that are intended to disrupt or interfere with government or public functions, vital services, or create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm.  Aggravated computer tampering is a felony offense.

Lastly is the crime of computer fraud.  This category of offenses involves the use of a computer or associated technology and information to deceive or defraud.  Computer fraud includes acts that seek to gain control over money, services, or property.  Computer fraud is always a felony.

Other Computer Crimes

There are other Illinois Statutes as well as federal law that implicated criminal activity when a computer is involves.  One is internet related theft cases.  These internet offenses make it a criminal act to sell stolen goods online, attempts to purchase goods or services online with fictitious, stolen, or fraudulently obtained money, and the act of electronic fencing.

The last category of crimes involving computers that have serious legal implications is possession of child pornography.  Child pornography on a computer is a Class 1 felony, which carries a possible prison sentence of 4-14 years.  The charge becomes aggravated child pornography when the child in the images is under the age of 13.  Aggravated child pornography is a Class X felony, punishable by imprisonment of 6-30 years.

There is variation in the charges for this offense depending on whether the images were merely possessed or if the accused was involved in producing the pornography or distributing it.

Computers and the internet are complex technologies.  Crafting a savvy defense if ever charged with a computer crime will be equally complex.  It is important to contact a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney for immediate assistance.

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