Computer Hacking & Privacy Litigation
Decisive Legal Help for Defense or Prosecution of Invasion of Privacy Actions
The Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP has significant experience in litigating privacy and computer hacking cases in courts across the United States. Given the underlying criminal component that each unauthorized data interception potentially presents, our clients enjoy the comfort of being represented by former federal prosecutors, former Department of Justice trial attorneys, and experienced litigators. Together, we make sure that your rights and interests are protected.
Clients interested in a free and confidential case assessment should contact former Assistant United States Attorney Lynette Byrd or managing partner Dr. Nick Oberheiden. If your case is an emergency, you should not hesitate to call us immediately, including on weekends.
What Is Computer Hacking?
What may be prompted by an understandable motivation to identify adultery, child abuse, or hidden assets in a divorce context or theft and betrayal in the winding up of a business partnership, can trigger unpleasant legal consequences, if caught. State and federal law protect privacy, including cyber privacy, and prohibit illegal hacking software, GPS tracking devices, accessing someone else’s emails or text messages and other forms of interceptions— without proper consent.
The “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act” (CFAA) is a federal statute that bans the unauthorized use of a computer to acquire information, obtain something of value, or cause damage to the computer. The CFAA sanctions violations with both civil and criminal penalties, including the possibility of federal felony charges. See 18 U.S.C. § 1030. Similarly, the “Electronic Communications Privacy Act” (ECPA) prohibits the intentional interception of oral or written communications as well as the unauthorized intrusion into stored electronic communications (i.e. email accounts). Like the CFAA, the ECPA provides both criminal and civil penalties for violations. See 18 U.S.C. § 2510.
Causes of Action. In addition to the two mentioned federal statutes, interception and hacking may also constitute torts, such as invasion of privacy, tortious interference, trespass, theft, fraud, and conversion.
Detection. Computer hacking and device interception are typically proven through the litigation process or through forensic experts. Depending on the level of sophistication and the magnitude of the interception, most cases originate among departing employees, separating business partners, or divorcing spouses, which makes it often possible to identify the suspects and to implement a defense plan. Cyber attacks committed by professional hackers, by contrast, should be left to law enforcement professionals and qualified IT-experts.
Interception & Storage. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act defines interception as the “acquisition of the contents of any wire, electronic or oral communication through the use of any electronic, mechanical, or other device.” Electronic storage, by contrast, is “any temporary, immediate storage of a wire or electronic communication incidental to the electronic transmission thereof.”
Prevention. For the most part, computer hacking is an offense that arises out of opportunity. Few people have the technical skillset to intercept random computing devices without any form of access information. The vast majority of hacking incidents occur because— out of trust, habitude, or negligence— an unauthorized user happens to obtain access information. Frequent password changes, firewalls, and encryption software are recommended.
Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP has appeared in courts across the country to litigate privacy, hacking, and interception cases in disputes originating out of employment matters, partnership disputes, corporate espionage, and divorce filings. Call us today to discuss your situation with our experienced lawyers in a free and confidential conversation.
What Are Examples of Illegal Conduct?
- Installing Spyware to Extract Information
- Installing Key-Tracking Software to Obtain Passwords
- Using Wiretaps to Record Third-Party Conversations
- Using Audio Recording Devices to Record Third-Party Conversations
- Using GPS Tracking Devices
- Hiring Professional Hackers to Access Someone Else’s Accounts or Devices
- Accessing Another’s Email, Financial or Other Accounts for Unauthorized Purposes
- Accessing Another’s Computer, Cellular Phone or Other Devices for Unauthorized Purposes
- Accessing Another’s Computer Files for Unauthorized Purposes
What Are the Penalties?
Contrary to common perception, computer hacking, that is the unauthorized access of a computing device such as a phone, iPad, tabloid is illegal and can expose perpetrators to significant fines. In more extreme cases, computer hacking can attract the attention of state and federal law enforcement agencies and may result in criminal charges.
- Violations of electronic privacy laws can trigger federal and state claims against the perpetrator. Frequently used state causes of action are invasion of privacy, trespass, fraud, theft, tortious interference, and defamation.
- Courts can award damages, attorney’s fees, punitive damages, and treble damages.
- In certain states, like Texas, courts can award up to $ 10,000.00 for each violation. For example, if someone accesses a computing devices 5 times without authority, courts could award damages, lawyer’s fees, punitive damages and additionally $ 50,000.00 for the five violations.
- It is important to note that civil liability does not require a specific intent to violate the law, but simply that someone accessed an email account with the knowledge that no authorization existed.
- Accessing someone else’s computing device without authorization can also be charged criminally in form of a federal felony pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1030.
- 18 U.S.C. 1030 makes it unlawful to intentionally access a computer without authorization or to exceed authorized access, and thereby obtaining information from a protected computer. Another federal statute at 18 U.S.C. § 2511 makes it unlawful to intentionally intercept, endeavor to intercept, or procure another person to intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication.
- Penalties include criminal fines, incarceration of up to 5 years in federal prison per each count, or both.
- Furthermore, most states to prosecute interception and unauthorized accessing of an electronic device also as a state criminal offense.
What is the Worst-Case Scenario? In general, whether someone will be criminally prosecuted and will go to jail for illegal hacking or interception depends on a number of factors such as the gravity, the interest of the prosecutor to take the case, and the motivation behind the hacking. What makes Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP unique in its representations in hacking cases is our dual experience in civil litigation and criminal law. If you want to learn more about the potential consequences of accessing someone else’s computing device without consent should speak directly to one of the former state or former federal prosecutors at Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP.
Accessing Emails in a Divorce Proceeding
Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP has frequently been engaged to intervene in contested divorce proceedings, in which one spouse accuses the other spouse of illegally accessing email accounts, bank information, or business records. Clients, as well as divorce attorneys, seek our help in these situations to advise on the proper cause of action and the likelihood of criminal charges. Our team of former federal prosecutors and experienced litigators has successfully represented individuals and companies in state and federal courts. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions in connection with hacking in divorce proceedings.
Q: How Can a Spouse Violate Federal Hacking Law in a Divorce Context?
In a divorce context, an example of a CFAA violation would be where one spouse gains unauthorized access to the other’s computer and thereby accesses computer files, financial records, or email accounts.
Q: Is it Legal to Secretly Record a Conversation?
The answer depends on the state. In most states, as long as one party (in this case, you) consents to the recording, the recording is legal. However, some states require that all parties consent to the recording. Note that all states prohibit the secret recording of a conversation between third-parties (e.g. between your spouse and her lawyer). Notably, the recording laws only apply to oral communications, not video surveillance, provided the video does not record sound.
Q: Is it Legal to Read My Spouse’s Email?
As a general rule, even among married people, it is illegal to read or access a spouse’s email without prior consent. To the extent a permission to read or access exists for a limited purpose (e.g. to find a bill, to find a contact information), any use of the email account beyond that specific purpose could violate the law. Clearly, if no permission or an explicit prohibition to access an email account exists, then any access of the account is illegal, even if the access information happens to be known.
Q: Is it Legal to Check My Spouse’s Cellular Phone?
If the cellular phone is password protected, you should assume that you may not legally access the phone and its content. As with email, if your spouse has given you the passcode, such an act could implicitly or explicitly authorize you to access and use the phone, to what exact extent would depend on the circumstances of the case.
Q: What Are Potential Penalties for Hacking & Intercepting?
Snooping that falls within the scope of the two federal statutes outlined above (CFAA & ECPA) could trigger significant fines and even criminal prosecution. In addition to remedies in federal court, victims of computer hacking or interception may also have state law causes of actions, such as invasion of privacy.
Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP has appeared in courts across the country to litigate privacy, hacking, and interception cases. Call us today to discuss your situation with our experienced attorneys in a free and confidential conversation.
Hacking Litigation Outcomes
Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP routinely advises clients, lawyers, and law firms in state and federal cases involving interception of data, hacking of computing devices, and privacy law violations. What follows are some examples of our recent engagement in hacking cases.
- Successful Intervention on Behalf of Business Owner. Client Was Exposed to Hacking and Interception. We Obtained Restraining Order and Temporary Injunction and a Permanent Injunction as well as Seizure Orders.
- Successful Intervention on Behalf of Physician. Client Was Exposed to Hacking and Interception. We Obtained Restraining Order. Opposing Party Immediately Settled.
- Successful Intervention on Behalf of Executive. Client Was Exposed to Hacking and Interception. We Obtained Restraining Order. Opposing Party Immediately Settled.
- Successful Intervention on Behalf of Physician. Obtained Restraining Order Against Ex-Spouse Interfering with Client’s Current Job and Falsely Reporting Ethical Violations.
- Successful Intervention on Behalf of Business Owner. Opposing Party Settled Instantly After Our Firm Announced its Appearance.
- Successful Intervention on Behalf of Business Owner. Case Was Filed in U.S. Federal Court. All Illegal Activities Ceased When Our Firm Made an Appearance in the Case.
- Successful Intervention on Behalf of Health Care Client Regarding Theft of Patient Files. Case Settled and Files Were Returned Immediately After Our Firm Made an Appearance.
- Successful Defense of Client Against Potential HIPAA Violation. Case Ended with No Civil and No Criminal Liability for Our Client.
- Successful Defense of Client Against Potential HIPAA Violation. Case Ended with No Civil and No Criminal Liability for Our Client.
- Successful Representation of Client in Massive Data Breach. Case Ended with No Civil and No Criminal Liability for Our Client.
Why Do Clients Trust Oberheiden & McMurrey?
Our nationwide reputation as an effective resource for clients facing federal investigations is unmatched, and there is a reason for that. Several reasons, in fact.
1. Decades of Experience
Practicing at the federal level can be very different from practicing at the state level. Our attorneys enjoy a combined total of several decades of experience in the federal system. We can provide advice on regulatory compliance so that you can avoid a federal investigation in the first place. If it is already too late for that, we can intervene decisively in the investigation to minimize the negative consequences to you and your company.
2. Our “Double Agents”
Several of our lawyers spent years working as federal prosecutors for the U.S. Department of Justice before joining us. Their years of distinguished experience learning the ins-and-outs of the prosecution’s point of view has provided them with a multidimensional insight into the way a prosecutor’s mind works. This type of first-hand insight as unique as it is valuable – and cannot be matched by anyone who lacks experience on both sides of a federal prosecution.
3. Our Results
A federal investigation is no laughing matter. If your defense team drops the ball, you could be facing millions of dollars in fines, ineligibility for critical governmental programs, corporate bankruptcy, and even prison time. Our track record speaks for itself – many of our cases have resulted in no civil or criminal liability, and many others have resulted in greatly reduced penalties.
4. Our Team
When pursuing an investigation or a prosecution, the federal government is not shy about ganging up on you. Numerous investigators, prosecutors, and federal agents are routinely assigned to a single case. To fight back effectively, you are going to need a team that knows how to work together more effectively than the government does. At Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP, our attorneys effectively combine their knowledge and experience to provide you with the best possible defense.
5. Our Commitment
Federal investigations are invasive, burdensome, frightening, and potentially expensive – even if no charges are ultimately brought. We understand all too well what a federal investigation can do to your company’s finances as well as your peace of mind. This is why we fight with every weapon in our legal arsenal to resolve your case as favorably, quickly, and as cost-effectively as possible.
Zealous and Experienced Attorneys for Defense and Prosecution of Computer Hacking & Privacy Issues
Our reputable team is available to begin working on your case immediately. To speak with our lawyers in confidence, contact us today to discuss your situation with an experienced privacy litigation attorney. Let us help you with your legal issues involving privacy and computer hacking.