A crime that is not commonly charged but still exists in Florida deals with a person accessing a computer without authorization to take trade secrets or other confidential data. This came up in a recent criminal case after the defendant was charged with accessing her company’s client list, downloading it to her private computer and then using the client list for purposes not permitted by the company.
The defendant was actually charged with two crimes: 1) unlawfully accessing a computer database, and 2) obtaining trade secret or confidential data. Both charges are third degree felonies and are punishable by up to five years in prison. The first charge, unlawfully accessing a computer database, involves knowingly accessing, disrupting or destroying a computer or computer network without authorization. This obviously includes hacking into a computer system without authorization to view or take computer data. The second charge, obtaining trade secret or confidential data, involves knowingly taking or disclosing data that are considered trade secrets or confidential under Florida law that exists on a computer or computer network without authorization.
In this case, the defendant was not convicted of unlawfully accessing a computer database since she was an employee and had the right to access the information. However, she was convicted of obtaining trade secret or confidential data because she was not entitled to take the data and transfer it to her own computer for her own use.
Many people use company or private computers during work. They frequently access the confidential data of their employers. Whether a person is guilty of these kinds of crimes may often depend on the particular company’s policies regarding its computers and computer network. Other issues may arise as to whether the company adequately notified the defendant/employee of its computer policies or the confidential nature of its data. At the many companies where policy enforcement is lax, whether the company failed to enforce such policies during the employee’s tenure giving the employee reason to believe he/she had access to certain computer data despite the policy may also be an issue.
Although these crimes are not commonly charged in Florida, they do exist and they carry potentially serious penalties. Given the prevalence of computers in the workplace, the ambiguities regarding many companies’ policies addressing their computer systems and the broad wording of these criminal statutes, the potential for employees to face these felony charges is significant.