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California Computer Crimes: How Deleting Files Can Lead To Criminal Charges

OKABE & HAUSHALTER Oct 20, 2018 Computer Crime

Did you know that deleting certain files from your computer could land you in prison? Yep, you have read that right. Numerous cases focusing on computer crimes in California have shown that people can face criminal charges for deleting files, even those that contain personal information, from their work computer.

Our Los Angeles computer crimes defense attorney at Okabe & Haushalter explains that if you have a company-issued laptop or computer, deleting or otherwise “damaging” certain files can result in criminal charges. For example, you can be charged with felony charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), which prohibits “knowingly causing the transmission of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causing damage without authorization, to a protected computer.”

The unclear and ambiguous language of the CFAA provisions

Under the CFAA, it is a crime to access and/or delete files or other types of electronic information if no authorization has been granted to you. “The problem with the above-mentioned provision and other provisions under the CFAA is that they are way too broad for the modern world,” says our experienced computer crimes defense attorney in Los Angeles.

Back in 1986, when the CFAA was codified in the United States, these broad and ambiguous provisions, which offer too much room for interpretation, did not raise any questions from lawmakers. Today, however, at a time when nearly 87 percent of American households own a computer or laptop, these ambiguous provisions give corporations and prosecutors an almost unlimited power to file criminal charges against employees for pretty much any conduct they commit on their work computers.

If you have a company-issued computer and you deleted personal files temporarily saved on the computer, do not be surprised if you get prosecuted. After numerous computer crime cases with unpredictable and sometimes even bizarre outcomes, it remains unclear what employees are authorized to do on their work computers.

You can go to prison for deleting files from a work computer

Time and time again, the federal government has argued, citing the ambiguous provisions in the CFAA, that intentional deletion of or damage to any type of information, even personal and not presenting any value to the employer, on a work computer can be classified as “damage” under the CFAA and lead to criminal charges regardless of whether the deletion or damage was permanent or temporary.

Ridiculous, right? If you intentionally pressed the “Delete” key on a company-issued computer, you can face criminal prosecution regardless of the contents of the file or information you deleted or damaged. The company can accuse you of erasing the contents of the computer, and you will most likely not be able to do much to defend yourself unless represented by a Los Angeles computer crimes defense attorney.

How to defend yourself when being accused of deleting files?

At a time when just about anyone can be accused of being a Russia-sponsored hacker, these criminal charges are even more serious than you think. The broadness of the language provided in the CFAA opens the door for countless baseless and ridiculous computer crime cases and false convictions in California and elsewhere in the U.S.

The best way to defend yourself against those charges is to be represented by a skilled lawyer from Okabe & Haushalter. Speak about your case by calling at 310-430-7799 and get a free case evaluation.