Texas Computer Crimes Laws
Overview of Texas Computer Crimes Laws
There are various types of criminal activities that fall under the umbrella of "computer crimes" in Texas. Many people may be familiar with the term "hacking," however, there are computer crimes that are even broader and cover a variety of topics. The following are all computer crimes under Texas law:
- Knowingly accessing a computer, computer network or computer system without the consent of the owner;
- Knowingly soliciting a minor under the age of 17 over the internet, text message, or other electronic system, to meet in person for the purpose of engaging in sexual behavior with the defendant;
- Knowingly accessing a computer system, network, program, software or machine that is part of a voting system that uses direct recording electronic voting machines and tampers with the votes or the ability of someone to vote.
- Creating a web page or leaving messages on a social networking site using the persona of another without the person's consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten someone; or
- Referencing the name, domain address, phone number or any other identifying information of a person without that person's consent, intending to cause the recipient to think the message is truly coming from that person, with the intent to harm or defraud someone.
Computer crimes can be broad in range but basically involve any use of a computer or other technological machine or system like a computer to harm, defraud or threaten another person, or to solicit minors or breach security.
Defenses to Computer Crimes Charges
- Lack of knowledge
- Age (i.e. the person solicited over the internet was not in fact a child under the age of 17)
- Consent was given
- For soliciting a minor, it is a defense that the defendant was married to the minor at the time of the solicitation.
- For soliciting a minor, it is a defense that the defendant was no more than three years older than the minor at the time of the solicitation and the minor consented.
- For breaching computer security, it is a defense that the defendant was an employee of a communications common carrier or electric utility and engaged in the conduct during his employment to ensure that the integrity of the property and protection of the rights were maintained. (e.g. a computer technician that must access your computer system in order to fix a problem)
- For online harassment, it is a defense that the defendant's action consisted only of action taken as an employee of: (1) a social networking site; (2) an internet service provider; (3) an interactive computer service; (4) a telecommunications provider; or (5) a video/cable service provider.
Penalties and Sentences
The penalties for computer crimes are of a wide variety depending on the nature and seriousness of the crime committed. For the breach of computer security (i.e. gaining access to a computer without the consent of the owner), the penalty may range all the way from a "Class B" misdemeanor (up to 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000) up to a first degree felony (five to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000). The factor influencing the degree of the penalty imposed is the value of money or property that the defendant benefitted from and/or was lost by the victim.
For soliciting a minor, the crime will be charged as a third degree felony (two to ten years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000). However, if the minor is under 14 years of age, then it may be a second degree felony (two to twenty years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000).
For tampering with a voting machine, the penalty is a first degree felony. This is a very serious penalty with a sentence between five to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
For online harassment, the charge is generally a third degree felony. However, if the crime was pretending to send an electronic message of any type from another person, hoping the recipient would believe that other person authorized this message, with the intent to harm or defraud, the defendant may instead be charged with a "Class A" misdemeanor (not more than one year in a county jail and/or a fine of no more than $4,000). In the event, however, that this was intended to summon a response by emergency personnel, it will be elevated back to a third degree felony.
Texas Computer Crimes Statute
Texas Computer Crimes Statute
Penal Code, Title 7, Chapter 33
Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.