Sunday, June 10, 2007

Another Take on the Unauthorized Use of a Computer

Here is another take on the issue of unauthorized computer use. I earlier wrote about a Michigan gentleman who was charged with a felony for checking his email on an open wifi connection without first buying a cup of coffee. See, Keeping the World Safe From Email Checking Leeches. Now we have a Florida case in which a man used his employer's computer network to steal from the employer, but Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that the unauthorized use of the computer network was not one of his crimes. The full text of the Florida Statute can be found here. The Florida Statute is much more detailed and explicit and, therefore, better written than the Michigan statute. The Florida court focused on the issue of "authorized access", which the employee had, versus exceeding the authority granted, which is what the employee did. The Florida court contrasted the language in Florida's statute with a Federal law. The Federal statute added the language "exceeding authorized access" to the proscribed conduct, which was not in the Florida law. The Florida statute also had a clause that read, "This section does not apply to any person who accesses his or her employer's computer system, computer network, computer program, or computer data when acting within the scope of his or her lawful employment." § 815.06(6), Fla. Stat. (2003). This clause excused the defendant's use in excess of his authority. In contrast, the Michigan statute is so broadly written that the mere "use" of a computer network "without authorization" is a felony. The Florida statute requires maliciousness or harm and not mere "use."

Admittedly, we're not comparing apples to apples here, but isn't it ironic that the Michigan man faced jail for merely checking email with no malicious intent while the Florida man committed no "computer crime" while stealing from his employer? I think both legislatures need to revisit their statutes. The Michigan legislature needs to rewrite their obscenely overbroad statute. The Florida legislature needs to consider an exception to subsection (6) so that the deliberate use of the employer's computer for theft is a crime. On the other hand, it wasn't like the state didn't have the defendant for his theft anyway. A crime is a crime whether committed with a computer or not. Misuse of a computer does not carry the same potential for harm as the misuse of a gun so maybe there is no reason to enhance the already stiff penalty for grand theft.

This case was brought to my attention by Matt Conigliaro's Abstract Appeal blawg.

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