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Don't Turn Your Employment Dispute into a Federal Criminal Case

Chances are you or someone you know believed an employer did not fully appreciate what the employee perceived as invaluable contributions to the organization. Invariably, the employee believes he or she was underpaid. Increasingly we see federal authorities getting involved when the terminated employee handled the employer’s information technology (IT) or social media presence and deletes data on the way out the door. While these former employees often assume that a civil law suit will eventually catch up to them, former employees now more often find themselves the target of federal charges.

When An Employment Dispute Is Considered a Federal Crime

Title 18, United States Code, Section 1030(a)(5)(A), makes it a federal crime to damage a protected computer, which can include deleting a website, instituting a denial of service attack, or inserting malicious code. The government must prove a person: (1) knowingly caused the transmission of a program, information, code, or command; and (2) intentionally caused damage to a protected computer without authorization. Federal law makes it a felony, punishable up to 10 years, if the damage:

  • Resulted in a loss of $5000 during a one-year period;
  • Modified medical care of a person;
  • Caused physical injury;
  • Threatened public health or safety;
  • Affected a system used by or for a government entity for the administration of justice, national defense, or national security; or
  • Affected 10 or more protected computers during a one-year period.

Federal agents usually start with the victim’s computers or IT processes. Cooperative victims permit the government unfettered access, whereas a victim worried about privacy perceptions may require the government to serve a Grand Jury subpoena or obtain a search warrant. Both result in law enforcement finding the digital thumbprint about how the damage occurred and the effect it had on the victim. From there, agents usually trace the digital trail through internet protocol addresses (IP addresses) and internet providers, invariably wireless or mobile service providers. When agents identify who they believe committed the crime, they usually attempt to interview the person as the final step of the investigation.

That is the subject of another article, located here.

Federal Criminal Defense Law Firm

It is important to have lawyers who understand digital evidence and are comfortable challenging the conclusions law enforcement makes using that digital evidence. It is common for law enforcement to ignore brute force attacks by bots and hackers that could have actually transmitted the program, information, code, or command. Further, law enforcement often assumes the former employee committed the crime “without authorization,” which has a very specific meaning under the law. Also, it is important to know what the law and Justice Department policy permit to be used to calculate the damage, which could result in charges being dropped to a misdemeanor or dismissed.

It is imperative to retain counsel experienced in national security and criminal cyber investigations to navigate the perils you face. In the past, we have been retained after our client learned federal and state law enforcement authorities, specializing in cybercrime, were investigating the client for illegally accessing a protected network, but charges had not been filed. We were able to convince authorities not to bring charges. In other instances, we have been retained after cybercrime charges have been filed and challenged the conclusion federal authorities reached.

If you believe you are under federal investigation, or if you are an attorney with a client under federal investigation, contact the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A. immediately. Call (407) 901-5852 to request a free initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer.