Computer Crimes (Tas)

Computer crime (or e-crime) is a rapidly expanding area of criminal law. Federal and state legislators have attempted to stay updated as offenders find new ways to commit crimes using technological devices. However, the speed of technological change can make it challenging for the law to keep pace. Legislation is drafted in broad terms to accommodate future technology used in criminal acts. This article defines computer crimes, which are governed by several pieces of legislation in Tasmania, and their attendant sentencing.

Computer Crimes In Tasmania

In Tasmania, a computer crime is classified as criminal use of a digital device. The Police Offences Act 1935 covers offences related to computer fraud, hacking and damage to computer data. It is a punishable offence under this law to gain intentional, unauthorised access to a computer without a legal excuse. It is a further crime to intentionally and unlawfully damage, erase or alter data on a computer or interfere with or obstruct the lawful operation of a computer. Another section of the Act prohibits the insertion of false information into a computer, regardless of the method used to insert the data.

Additionally, the Criminal Code Act 1924 has several provisions that apply to computer crimes. For instance, the Code prohibits offences that damage or insert false information into computer data and computer-related fraud. For the purposes of this Act, data is information and part or whole of a computer programme.

The Criminal Code covers the following offences.

Computer-related fraud

It is prohibited for someone (with intent to defraud) to destroy, erase, damage, alter or in another way manipulate data stored or accessed by a computer. It is also an offence to introduce data into a computer system intending to manipulate the existing data. For example, it is computer-related fraud for someone to impersonate a legitimate authority or individual with the intention of obtaining personal information or money, goods or services.  

Damaging computer data

It is a breach of the Criminal Code to (without lawful excuse) intentionally erase, destroy, damage or alter data. Or to interfere or obstruct the lawful use of a device such as a computer or system of computers.

Unauthorised access

A person who intentionally gains access (without legal excuse) to a computer or system of computers is guilty of the crime of unauthorised access to a computer.

Insertion of false information

It is also a crime under the Criminal Code to fraudulently introduce, record or store misleading or false information on a computer.

Modern Computer Crimes

When Tasmanian legislation first addressed computer crimes, the focus was on preventing unauthorised access to physical computers and closed networks. More recently, most computer crimes are internet-based and do not involve interference with individual computer hardware. These crimes include when an offender uses the internet to fraudulently gather information for financial gain through phishing crimes, internet fraud and identity theft. Cybercriminals target not only individuals but also businesses and organisations with up-to-date firewalls and computer policies. These offenders use stylised and targeted tactics to defraud even technologically sophisticated computer users.

Extraterritorial Application

One of the challenges of computer crime is that technology easily crosses jurisdictional barriers. A rising number of financial fraud offences perpetrated online are conducted from a geographical distance. These crimes can result in significant financial losses for the victims. In recognition of this, Tasmanian legislation applies to acts of computer crime perpetrated outside Tasmania.

Even if the criminal committed the computer crime from another location, the Police Offences Act and Criminal Code still apply if the facts demonstrate a substantial link to Tasmania. This extraterritorial application applies as long as there is a real and substantial link between the offence and Tasmania and a major effect arose in the state. For instance, an offender can be charged under these laws if they carry out a computer crime from an interstate location, but many victims reside in Tasmania.

Penalties For Computer Crimes In Tasmania

The maximum penalty for an infringement of a computer crime under the Police Offences Act is 20 penalty units or two years imprisonment. In special circumstances, the courts can impose a sentence that combines both a monetary fine and imprisonment of the offender. The maximum penalty for a breach of the relevant sections of the Criminal Code is 21 years imprisonment. This penalty is subject to the court’s discretion and the provisions of the Sentencing Act 1997.

A person charged with a computer crime in Tasmania can face heavy penalties. The court can impose a fine or term of imprisonment. Additionally, a criminal conviction can have an enduring impact on the offender’s employment prospects, travel opportunities and social interactions. As such, it is essential that anyone charged with a computer crime contact the criminal law team at Go To Court immediately on 1300 636 846.

Author

Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Armstrong Legal in 2020.
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