Unauthorized Access of a Computer Network

Crimes for “unauthorized access” involve approaching, trespassing within, communicating with, storing data in, retrieving data from, or otherwise intercepting and changing computer resources without consent. In many of these cases, the unauthorized access interferes with computers, systems, programs or networks.

Most computer crimes involve accusations of interfering with the normal operation of a computer system by hacking, phishing, or using viruses, malware, spyware or ransomware. Section 815.06(2)(a), Florida Statutes, provides as follows:

(2) A person commits an offense against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks, or electronic devices if he or she willfully, knowingly, and without authorization:

(a) Accesses or causes to be accessed any computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device with knowledge that such access is unauthorized[.]

In these cases, the prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office must prove that the defendant accessed a computer network and that the access was unauthorized.

Attorney for Computer Crimes in Tampa, FL

If you were charged with the unauthorized access of a computer network or electronic device, a third-degree felony, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm. We help clients charged with computer crimes throughout Tampa, FL, and the greater Tampa Bay area.

Call us if you are accused of unauthorized attempts to gain privileged access or access to any account or system not belonging to you. Our main office is in Tampa, FL, in Hillsborough County. Our second office is in New Port Richey in Pasco County, FL.

Call (813) 250-0500.

Definitions in Florida’s Computer Crime Statute

Section 815.03 defines a computer network as a system that provides a medium for communication between one or more computer systems or electronic devices, including communication with an input or output device such as a display terminal, printer, or other electronic equipment that is connected to the computer systems or electronic devices by physical or wireless telecommunication facilities. § 815.03(4).

For purposes of Florida’s computer crime statutes, the term “access” is defined to mean “to approach, instruct, communicate with, store data in, retrieve data from, or otherwise make use of any resources of a computer, computer system, or computer network.” § 815.03(1).

Cases Explaining Florida’s Computer Access Crimes

In Crapps v. State, 180 So. 3d 1125 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015), the court found that accessing a person’s specific account was insufficient to prove a violation of section 815.06. In that case, the prosecutor failed to prove a violation of section 815.06(1)(a), Florida Statutes, when the defendant accessed his ex-girlfriend’s Instagram account without permission and posted nude photos of her. Id. at 1126-27. The Court found the statute’s definitions in section 815.03 referred to tangible devices and not the data located on the device. Id. at 1127.

To prove a violation the State was required to “establish that the defendant accessed one of the listed tangible devices without authorization, not that the defendant accessed a program or information stored on the device without authorization.” Id. (citing Rodriguez v. State, 956 So. 2d 1226, 1230 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007)).

In determining that the State failed to prove its case, the First District pointed out that it had before it no evidence to “explain[ ] how accessing an Instagram account works from a technological perspective, leaving unanswered whether or how Appellant’s actions amounted to accessing a specific computer, computer system, or computer network.” Id.

The evidence was insufficient because the prosecution “d[id] not foreclose the possibility that the State could present sufficient evidence to prove a violation of section 815.06 for unauthorized, sexually-explicit Internet postings such as those in this case.” 180 So. 3d at 1127.

In Rodriguez v. State, 956 So. 2d 1226 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007), an employee was charged with a violation of section 815.06 for accessing his employer’s computer system and adjusting the inventory. Id. at 1230. The Third District determined that although the employee “was not authorized to access the computer function he accessed in order to make inventory adjustments[,]” the employee “was authorized to access the system by using his password” and “was authorized to access the network.” Id.

The Rodriguez court noted that the statute provides an exception for an employee accessing his employer’s computer system when acting in the scope of lawful employment. Id. at 1230-31. The court thus concluded that the evidence was insufficient to show the employee “accessed the computer, computer system, or computer network without authorization.” Id.

This article was last updated on Friday, July 31, 2020.