Should Everyone Who Uses A Phone Or A Computer As Part Of A Crime Get A Longer Sentence?

from the so-says-the-8th-circuit dept

We've noted just how far the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) has been stretched lately. The law -- which is supposed to be used against those involved in malicious hacking -- actually breaking into computer systems and such -- keeps being used in ways totally different than intended, such as claiming that just visiting a website you weren't supposed to can now be deemed as "hacking." Michael Scott alerts us to another unintended consequence of the broad interpretation of the CFAA, involving a sex offender who got an extra 28 months on his prison sentence because he used a phone.

Now, as the article notes, if there's anyone out there who deserves a longer prison sentence, it's a sex offender who victimizes minors. But that doesn't mean we should condone stretching a computer hacking law in a ridiculous manner. In this case, because the CFAA allows increased sentencing for someone who used a computer in the commission of the crime, the judge decided that a rather standard mobile phone counts as a "computer" under the law. Even though it was a standard mobile phone, and not a smartphone or feature phone, the judge quoted Steve Wozniak in pointing out that "Everything has a computer in it nowadays."

Of course, that should be a reason why we should worry about this kind of sentencing. The idea that anyone deserves more time in prison solely because they used a mobile phone doesn't make much sense. It continues to make a mockery of the law. If the guy deserves to be in prison longer for the actual despicable crime he committed, then the law should allow such longer sentences. But the courts shouldn't twist the CFAA to accomplish that goal.
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Filed Under: computers, crime, sentencing

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  1. icon
    Mateo Jose (profile), 3 Mar 2011 @ 12:29am

    Re: The Brain

    Good point. Someday in the not-too-distant future, people will have electronic implants in their brains. These processors will be more powerful than any smart phone of today.
    At that point in time, I suppose any crime committed would fall under the CFAA.

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