Are You a Legal Professional?

New York Computer Crimes Laws

Overview of New York Computer Crime Laws

Reflecting the state legislature's effort to address a full range of computer abuses, Article 156 of the New York Penal Code criminalizes a wide range of computer crimes. Specifically, the law enumerates five distinct offenses involving computers: unauthorized use of a computer, computer trespass, computer tampering, unlawful duplication of computer related material, and criminal possession of computer related material.

For purposes of the statute, "computer" means a device or group of devices which "can automatically perform arithmetic, logical, storage or retrieval operations with or on computer data." In addition, the definition also includes peripheral equipment, such as internal and external drives, faxes, modems and printers, which are designed to store, retrieve or communicate the results of computer operations, programs or data.

To learn more about computer crimes generally, see FindLaw's Cyber Crimes and Online Scams sections.

A person is guilty of the crime of "unauthorized use of a computer" when he or she knowingly uses, causes to be used, or accesses a computer, computer service, or computer network without authorization. A person uses or accesses a computer "without authorization" when such person knows that his or her use or access is without the owner's permission, or where such person had actual notice that he or she lacked the owner's permission.

A person commits computer trespass when he or she commits the offense of unauthorized use of a computer (or computer service or computer network) and either (a) does so with the specific intent to commit, attempt to commit, or further the commission of any felony; or (b) knowingly gains access to computer material.

The crime of computer tampering is divided into four degrees. Fourth-degree computer tampering - the most basic of the offenses - occurs when a person commits the offense of unauthorized use of a computer (or computer service or computer network) and "intentionally alters in any manner or destroys computer data or a computer program of another person." The offense may be elevated to a higher degree depending on the presence of aggravating factors including a specific intent to commit, attempt to commit, or further the commission of any felony; previous convictions for an Article 156 or theft of services offense; the intentional alteration or destruction of computer material; and the causation of damages through such alteration or destruction in the amount of $1,000 or more. 

New York additionally penalizes the unlawful duplication and criminal possession of computer related material. The former occurs when a person copies, reproduces or duplicates computer material, data, or a program and has no right to do so. A person commits the latter offense when having no right to do so, he or she knowingly possesses in any form any copy, reproduction or duplicate of any computer data or program that was the subject of unlawful duplication - with the intent to benefit him or herself or another.

Defenses to Computer Crime Charges

  • Reasonable grounds to believe the accused person had authorization to use computer (for unauthorized use of a computer; defendant must provide written notice of intent to utilize defense)
  • Reasonable grounds to believe the accused person had authorization to alter or destroy computer data or computer program (for computer trespass in any degree; defendant must provide written notice of intent to utilize defense)
  • Reasonable grounds to believe the accused person had right to copy, reproduce or duplicate computer data or computer program (for unlawful duplication; defendant must provide written notice of intent to utilize defense)

Penalties and Sentences

The computer crimes described above are subject to various penalties under New York law. A conviction for computer tampering in the first degree - the most severely punished of computer-related offenses - is punishable as a class C felony and thus subject to either a maximum term of 3 to 15 years in prison, a fine as described below, or both. Computer trespass, first-degree unlawful duplication, and criminal possession of computer related material are class E felonies; persons guilty of these offenses may be sentenced to serve a maximum term of 3 to 4 years in prison, a fine as described below, or both. Fines for non-drug related felonies are the greater of $5,000 or double the defendant's gain from commission of the crime.

The Penal Code classifies offenses such as the unauthorized use of a computer and fourth-degree computer tampering as class A misdemeanors. Convictions for these offenses are subject to a term of imprisonment of up to one year, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

New York Computer Crime Statute

Offenses Involving Computers; Definition of Terms
Penal Code Article 156

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a New York consumer protection attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources:

Next Step Search and Browse
Contact a qualified attorney.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)