What Are the Different Types of Computer Crime Laws?

C. Mitchell

In the years since computers and Internet access have become a near ubiquitous part of many societies, government leaders all over the world have busied themselves drafting and enacting computer crime laws. Different laws exist in each country and sometimes vary even between localities within each country. Computer crime laws touch subjects such as hacking, data theft and cyber bullying. Most laws can be broken down in terms of use regulations, access regulations and content regulations, although the specifics of what a law contains or controls are entirely jurisdiction-specific.

Computer crime laws include measures to protect against cyber bullying.
Computer crime laws include measures to protect against cyber bullying.

Use regulations often pertain to how computer hardware and software programs were obtained. Many laws in this category punish the theft of computer systems as well as the piracy and unauthorized copying of software applications. Restrictions on how music and movie files can be shared online are common as well. Copyright infringement and other intellectual property protections intersect with computer crime laws in many ways.

Making unauthorized copies of movies for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
Making unauthorized copies of movies for friends is a form of copyright piracy.

Laws that set the parameters on how employees can use company networks, particularly those proscribing data theft and unfair competition, also come under the broad umbrella of use restrictions. Cybercrime programs that essentially overtake others’ computers for purposes of running malware or distributing malicious code are outlawed in most places. Using someone else’s computer or Internet connection — traceable through the subscriber’s unique Internet Protocol (IP) address — to perpetuate crime also is punishable nearly everywhere.

Using a design program to make counterfeit money is a computer crime.
Using a design program to make counterfeit money is a computer crime.

Most access regulations have to do with the spread of viruses and remote hacking operations. These sorts of activities are generally classed as Internet crime, carried out through fraudulent websites, surreptitious downloads or deceptive e-mail attachments. Identity theft laws and financial computer fraud regulations usually trace their roots to lawmakers’ desire to limit access to private hard drives and files.

Some computer crime laws protect users against malicious software such as viruses.
Some computer crime laws protect users against malicious software such as viruses.

Computer crime laws that fall within the control category are often the most wide-ranging. These laws prohibit things such as the dissemination of pornography or the solicitation of minors online. Some laws control what is said in Internet spaces, particularly social networking sites, and prohibit the malicious use of these services to torment other people. Internet slander and libel laws prevent website owners from publishing false or misleading information about living people online, and they often require blog owners and interactive article editors to monitor any comments that they allow to be posted.

Computer courses may focus on cyber ethics and intellectual property law.
Computer courses may focus on cyber ethics and intellectual property law.

There is very little consistency between computer crime laws on the global stage. Although similar practices are prosecuted almost everywhere, the way that the crimes are defined — as well as the penalties that are attached to them — can be very different, depending on location. Governments prioritize computer crime laws differently as well. Just because something is illegal does not always mean that government officials will devote the resources to prosecuting violators. This leads to a very patchy worldview of what is permissible and what is not when it comes to computers.

Compuer crime laws may seek to limit access to private hard drives.
Compuer crime laws may seek to limit access to private hard drives.
Computer theft may fall under computer crime laws.
Computer theft may fall under computer crime laws.
According to the Computer Misuse Act, accessing a computer to commit a crime is illegal.
According to the Computer Misuse Act, accessing a computer to commit a crime is illegal.
Soliciting minors online is a type of computer crime.
Soliciting minors online is a type of computer crime.

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