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What Are the Different Types of Computer Crime Laws?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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