Breach of Computer Security
Texas Penal Code §33.09
Client comes into the office with printouts of emails between his or her spouse and their lover. How did the client get them? The client knew the password to the spouses email account. Breach of Computer Security is about preventing the destruction of electronically stored data, and protecting the privacy of computer information both at home and the workplace.
Penal Code section 33.09 provides:
“A person commits an offense if the person knowingly accesses a computer, computer network, or computer system without the effective consent of the owner. The owner is not necessarily the person in whose name the computer is titled to. Section 33.01(15) defines “Owner” as a person who “has title to the property, possession of the property, whether lawful or not, or a greater right to possession of the property than the actor.
A computer system is any combination of a computer or computer software, or physical facilities supporting the computer or computer network. This broad definition would seem to encompass almost any PC or network configuration – Gmail, Yahoo and Microsoft Live are all computer network systems. Your laptop is part of the network if it has one of the access providers on it, or is configured to your office network system.
• Spouse is ordered out of the house through temporary orders. Spouse’s personal PC remains on the premises. Spouse returns the child after visitation one evening while other spouse is not at home. Spouse enters home while the cat’s away and opens up downloaded e-mail. Spouse has breached computer security. Why? Because even though spouse is the title holder to the property, other spouse has a superior right of possession and is thus the owner pursuant to Section 33.01(15).
• Spouse “figures out” American Express account password. She opens opens hubby’s Amex account through her work PC. She is in violation of Penal Code Section 33.02.
Breach of Computer Security is a Class B misdemeanor which provides for confinement in jail for up to 180 days and a fine of $2,000 or both unless damage or deletion of data, harm, fraud or a benefit to another occurs, in which case the punishment is increased according to the dollar value of the amount involved. Punishment could be a 1st degree felony which carries a 5-99 years or life in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.