Computers give us the ability to find an infinite amount of information with a single click. This is an incredible power to wield, and it has led to countless advances around the world.
Unfortunately, not everyone seeks to use the power of computers for good. With every new advancement in computing technology, there are those out there who have sought out ways to use computers to cheat the system for their own advancement by engaging in nefarious activities that hurt others.
Not surprisingly, this has led to a host of laws criminalizing these activities and ongoing policing by law enforcement to keep these activities under control. However, computers can do so many things and the laws are being written so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up with them all.
Do you know what actually constitutes a computer crime in Texas?
In this post, we’re going to computer-related crimes in Texas, as well as crimes that take place online or on social media. Knowing the definition of these crimes can help you steer clear of committing them – and if you are charged with a computer crime in Texas, it will provide you with an understanding of exactly what you’re being accused of and what you’re up against.
Texas Computer Crimes
What actions are considered computer crimes in our state? There are numerous:
- Breach of computer security
- Breach of computer security with intent to defraud
- Online solicitation of a minor
- Electronic access interference
- Electronic data tampering
- Unlawful decryption
- Tampering with an electronic voting machine
- Online impersonation
Let’s break down each one:
Breach of Computer Security
This is a charge that basically describes the various acts collectively known as “hacking.” Someone who “knowingly accesses a computer, computer network, or computer system without the effective consent of the owner” commits a computer crime under Texas law.
This crime is a class B misdemeanor unless:
- The defendant has been convicted of this crime twice in the past
- The government or a “critical infrastructure facility” owns the breached system
- The defendant intended to defraud the owner or damage property
In the event that the offender intended to defraud the owner, the charge (and penalties) will depend on the value of the property that the offender intended to defraud. If over $2,500 was involved in the crime, the offender will face felony charges.
The same rules apply if the defendant introduces ransomware, tampers with data or online records, or “decrypts encrypted private information through deception” in order to defraud the victim.
Online Solicitation of a Minor
If someone uses their computer, email, or text messages to meet with a minor in order to engage in sexual conduct, they will face felony charges. Any sort of sexually explicit communication, including the distribution of sexually explicit materials, is also considered “online solicitation of a minor.”
This is a serious charge, with penalties include a spot on the sex offender registry. However, not every teenager who is “sexting” a significant other should have to worry about this crime. Texas allows the following cases to be exempt from penalties:
- The defendant and alleged victim are married or were married at the time
- The defendant and alleged victim are less than three years in age apart and the minor consented to the acts
Other defense strategies may help as well. Consult with an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer to give yourself the best chance at avoiding a sex crime conviction.
Tampering With An Online Voting Machine
The talk of voter fraud has died down since the elections, but the law remains in place in Texas. Tampering with an online voting machine is just one form of voter fraud (and a very rare one at that), but it is quite serious.
Defendants will be charged with a felony in the first degree. Penalties for this type of charge include a minimum of five years and up to 99 years behind bars.
If you have seen the television show Catfish, you know how harmful online impersonation can be. Playful impersonation may still be a crime in Texas if prosecutors can prove that you had intentions to harm or defraud the person.
Texas law defines misdemeanor online impersonation as an act in which “the person sends an electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or other item of identifying information belonging to any person
- without obtaining the other person’s consent;
- with the intent to cause a recipient of the communication to reasonably believe that the other person authorized or transmitted the communication; and
- with the intent to harm or defraud any person.”
This charge is a class A misdemeanor, but it can be elevated to a third degree felony charge if:
- The defendant creates a website or social media profile posing as another person
- The messages are sent through social media sites, websites, or online forums
- The defendant acts with the intention to reach out to emergency personnel
Knowing What’s against the Law in Texas Is Half the Battle in Fighting Computer Crime Charges
Not all computer crimes are the same, and not all computer crimes have the same penalties. Learning the law can help you deal with it if you find yourself facing a charge.
Perhaps your charge does not match the acts that you actually engaged in. Or there is little evidence to determine your intent. Or law enforcement officials obtained their evidence against you in a way that violates the law.
There are many different ways in which defendants can walk away from a computer crime charge without a conviction. It starts with understanding the charge itself.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.