Computer crimes may not seem the same as theft. However, in Wisconsin, the law regards data as property.
Here is what the law has to say about offenses involving computer data.
For information, facts, instructions, ideas or knowledge to become data, the formalized preparation of any of these for processing on a computer network or system is necessary. A computer network involves communication lines between at least two interconnected computers, while a computer system refers to related equipment, software or hardware.
The form of the data could be printouts from a computer, or it could be magnetic storage media and punched cards. Even information stored within the computer's memory is a form of data.
A person cannot accidentally commit an offense against computer data. The criteria include willfully and knowingly acting. Another key is the lack of authorization. Taking data in any of its forms is an offense, as is copying data. Changing data or destroying it is also a data offense.
Data offense penalties
Several factors affect how harsh a penalty for a data offense may be. For example, simply committing one of the offenses is a Class A misdemeanor, which may result in a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a sentence of up to nine months. However, if a person commits the offense with the intent of defrauding someone of his or her property, or with the intent of obtaining it, that is a Class I felony, which could result in the same fine, but the prison sentence could increase as high as three years and six months.
The offense becomes a Class F felony if any of the following are true:
- The damage caused by the offense is greater than $2,500 in value
- The offense leads to a substantial and unreasonable risk of serious bodily harm or death of another
- The offense results in an interruption in water, gas or other utility supply
- The offense results in an impairment or interruption of government operations
- The offense interrupts or impairs public communication or transportation
Penalties for a Class F felony include a fine of up to $25,000 and/or a prison term of up to 12 years and six months. The penalties increase if the person committing the offense from a computer disguises its location or identity to make it more difficult to connect him or her to the offense.