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Unauthorized Use of a Computer: NY Pena Law 156.05

I hopped on a work computer that was not mine and that I did not have authorization to access. I accessed an email of a former girlfriend to see who she was communicating with. A former business partner of mine really ticked me off and I took his iPhone and accessed his Instagram and Snapchat accounts. I didn’t steal his money, access his online bank accounts or even send emails purporting to be him, but now the police asked me to come in for questioning. Are they going to arrest me for a computer crime? For that matter what does New York consider computer crimes and what are the offenses listed in New York Penal Law Article 156.00?

Whether it is a laptop in Manhattan, a Microsoft Surface Pro in Queens, an Android in Brooklyn or a PC desk top in White Plains, know that there is a Pandora’s Box of charges in the New York Penal Law that both the local police department such as the NYPD and District Attorney can both arrest and charge you with. New York Penal Law Article 156.00 alone has both misdemeanors and felonies, but depending on your conduct you also expose yourself to non-computer crimes such as Identity Theft. One such crime, a class “A” misdemeanor, is New York Penal Law 156.05. Unauthorized Use of a Computer, PL 156.05, is fairly simple in terms of the scope of the criminal statute.

Punishable by any amount of jail from time served to one year, you are guilty of Unauthorized Use of a Computer if you knowingly access, use, or even cause to be used, a computer, computer service or computer network. Whether not the penalty you receive involves incarceration, as serious as that may be, is arguably a secondary issue. Before reaching that point, however, you and your criminal lawyer must identify and institute the best defense to your PL 156.05 arrest. To do so, a little bit of education and understanding can go a long way.

Without touching on all the nuances of New York’s Unauthorized Use of a Computer statute, know that even the term “authorization” may not be what it seems. In fact, in the eyes of the law, it cannot be presumed that because you allegedly committed a crime, your use of a computer was unauthorized because its implicit that you don’t have the authority to use a computer for criminal purposes. While that seems like a reasonable approach, you may be able to argue that if you had permission to use a computer, but not explicitly for the purpose that established the basis of your arrest, you nonetheless had authority and therefore the prosecution would be unable to establish this element PL 156.06. This exact scenario played out in People v. Golb, 23 NY 3d 455 (2014). There, the Court of Appeals said, “the definitions and wording of the statute and the legislative history indicate that the statute is intended to reach a person who accesses a computer system without permission (i.e., a hacker) and the language does not appear to encompass [accessing a computer for fraudulent reasons where you generally had permission to do so otherwise]. Following this line of thought and the “hacking” intent of the statute, proof that you bypassed, circumvented or defrauded security measures to access a computer, computer service or computer network is presumptive evidence of your nefarious intent.

At bottom, whether the New York State Legislature knew it or not, when Unlawful Use of a Computer became the law of New York, what was then a big boxy computer was a far cry from the countless computers that we interact with daily. With this broad terminology along with the expansive types of computer services and networks, running afoul if PL 156.05 is as serious as it is easy.

Understand the law and crimes involving Unlawful Use of a Computer and the steps you need to defend yourself should you be arrested for this offense. Don’t let a lack of judgement or even multiple mistakes doom you to a future branded as a criminal. Take the steps today to protect yourself by retaining the best computer crimes lawyer or criminal defense attorney you can because your tomorrow may otherwise be bleak.

Call our New York computer crime lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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