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Computer Crime – Nothing is Private

We have seen a huge increase in the number of people charged with computer or internet-related crimes. It’s tough to tell whether this is because more people are committing crimes or if there is increased law enforcement. Both are likely true.

Comput er crimes range from improper internet chat to downloading illegal pornography. This is a tough subject. And societal views on things like child pornography are understandably harsh. We have all seen the special interest TV shows where the host engages in private “sting” operations. There is a fake internet “chat” relationship. The sting operator poses as an underage person, and the culprit responds. The show then sets up hidden cameras and documents the culprit coming to meet the alleged young person. They are then confronted on camera and ultimately arrested.

These shows and other media have triggered a political and legislative response. In simple terms, there are law enforcement groups who do nothing but seek and monitor peoples’ internet conduct.

It’s hard to criticize enforcement of illegal internet behavior. After all, these crimes typically involve underage children. And that is about as bad as it gets. But the reality remains—people charged with such conduct need a defense.

Sometimes the dragnet is too large. Sometimes people get accused of engaging in internet crimes when they didn’t intend to do anything wrong. The technology age has created all sorts of dangerous internet portals. There are various “peer-to-peer” networks where people download and share files. Each individual PC can operate as a storage place for others to access files—often illegal files. The problem is that these files are not always identified for what they are. It is perfectly legal for adults to view adult pornography on the internet. But when they search for adult pornography, they can inadvertently download illegal child pornography from someone else. Once downloaded, it is on their computer, and they are in possession.

Admittedly, such inadvertent accidents are not the norm. It is more common for people to “explore” what is out there. They collect various images, despite knowing that they are probably illegal. No one ever thinks it’s going to be a problem—they assume everything is private because they are sitting in their basement office.

But even if they delete the offensive content, it can come back to haunt them. The problem is that such files are rarely ever deleted completely. When people delete things in the typical way, they merely erase the directory path on their machine that points to the file. But the file is still there on the computer. And a forensic analysis will reveal it.

Agents eventually track down the IP (Internet Protocal) address of the machine. They get a street address and pay a visit. Sometimes they are on a “knock and talk” mission. They simply show up and start asking questions. If the suspect talks (they often do), they risk a full blown confession. Other times the authorities show up with a warrant and seize the computer and related devices. They conduct a forensic search of the various computer components (hard drives, dvd’s, jump drives, etc.). When illegal content appears, criminal charges follow.

We have worked closely with numerous individuals facings such internet crimes. It is necessary to conduct a careful review of the facts of the particular case. There very well may be a forensic defense based on the computer science. It is common to retain outside computer experts to assist in the defense and, if necessary, conduct our own forensic investigation of the computer systems. It is critical to get help from an Ohio criminal defense lawyer with experience in these types of cases as soon as possible. There are things that can be done early in the case to help minimize and contain the problem.

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