Access to the internet is one of life’s necessities in today’s world. Our modern lives revolve around the ability to communicate electronically through direct messaging and social media. Also, our country’s economic well-being is tied closely to the ability of businesses to conduct transactions over the internet. If a business has no cyber presence, it is as though it does not exist. The safety and security of the internet are, therefore, vital to our ability to communicate and to conduct business.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that internet safety and security are essential. The pandemic forced people indoors. As a result, several millions of employees began working from home. Furthermore, schools, from kindergarten to doctorate programs, pivoted from classroom learning to online learning rapidly. Without sufficient internet bandwidth and access, these feats of modern technology would not be possible.
Tech companies tried to fill a need with their online meeting platforms. Zoom, for example, has exploded in popularity as an online meeting space. Zoom has gone from relative obscurity to a household name in only two months. Zoom, and other programs like it, are a valuable tool to maintain social contact with our co-workers, friends, and loved ones.
Technological advances beget technological pirates. It is often said that people climbed Mount Everest simply because it was there. Internet hackers have harnessed that same mentality to disrupt online meetings, family hangouts, and school lessons by hacking their way into online meetings and disrupting them, often offensively. So prevalent was Zoom-hacking that law enforcement officers started investigating these disruptions, identifying the suspects, and arresting them.
“Cybercrimes” is the general label given to a host of specific acts that constitute criminal violations under Florida law. Cybercrimes in Florida include:
- Criminal harassment;
- Online bullying;
- Sex trafficking;
- Distribution or manufacturing child pornography;
- Illegal gambling;
- Selling counterfeit consumer goods;
- Piracy and copyright infringement; and
- Distribution of viruses.
Cybercrimes are exceedingly difficult to prosecute. Identifying the culprit was once nearly impossible. Now, federal and state law enforcement bureaus have upgraded their technology and gained the knowledge necessary to investigate these crimes. Federal authorities have been light-years ahead of any state law enforcement agencies investigating and closing cybercrimes. State and local authorities have closed the gap recently. They now have the ability to capture the offenders and bring them to justice.
Prosecutors, too, had to learn essentially on the fly to prove some of these charges. Technological developments and dedicated study have helped prosecutors develop the skills necessary to bring internet criminals to justice. The Attorney General’s Office in Florida instituted a Cyber Fraud division. Prosecutors and law enforcement investigators assigned to the Cyber Fraud divisions relentlessly pursue offenders who commit fraud upon consumers by electronic means.
Many sheriff’s departments in Florida have a cybercrimes bureau or at least one or two detectives who are assigned to internet crimes exclusively. Not only do these officers understand the technology and how it works, but they also know how the tech-savvy criminal uses state-of-the-art technology to commit crimes. The knowledge and skill these specialized investigators acquired should not be underestimated. Additionally, cybercrimes investigators are still police officers. They know how to search for evidence, interview witnesses, and interrogate suspects.
A person suspected of committing internet crimes will most likely have sophisticated computer skills and have a ton of confidence in what he or she is doing. The level of sophistication with a computer should not be mistaken for understanding how to deal with law enforcement officers. The safest course of action anyone suspected of committing a crime in Florida could take is to contact a Florida cybercrime defense attorney who has the skill, knowledge, and experience to understand the technological aspects of the case but who also knows how to defend vigorously.
Technology is always two steps ahead of law enforcement. Ironically, the growth and expansion of technology across all sectors have allowed the police to creep closer. Detectives now have the knowledge and the equipment to recreate destroyed evidence such as wiped smartphones, and hard drives, which the user erased. Police are able to recover the “erased evidence,” which the prosecutor will assuredly argue is evidence of guilt. Therefore, erasing or attempting to destroy computer files could be a tremendous mistake.
Talking to the police is also extremely dangerous. Some people believe that they could talk their way out of a thorny situation or persuasively explain away damning evidence. People put in the hot seat frequently miscalculate the effect their statement will have on police. Instead of the officer unlocking the cuffs and escorting the suspect back into society, the suspect rarely envisions how his or her story will play out in a year or two down the line when the prosecution plays the recorded interview at trial. The prosecutor has an opportunity to demonstrate to the jury how the suspect lied and gave self-serving statements.
Successfully defending cybercrimes frequently comes down the legality of the law enforcement officers’ actions. Even cyber detectives must abide by the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the State of Florida. If the officers failed to conduct their investigation lawfully, then the trial judge will exclude, or suppress, all of the evidence illegally seized by the police. For instance, the police must ask the judge for a search warrant to seize a suspect’s computer, hard drive, removable drives, and other equipment connected to an alleged cybercrime. Investigators must spell out with specificity the evidence they say gives them probable cause to search for evidence of a crime on the suspect’s computer. However, if the officers are without sufficient evidence to meet the constitutionally-mandated probable cause standard, then the judge will deny the warrant request or, if the warrant issued, suppress all of the evidence seized from the illegal warrant. Other defenses may apply depending on the nature of the case and the specific factual allegations.
Florida law contains several statutes prohibiting cybercrimes. Chapter 815 of the Florida Statutes lists various crimes related to computers. This chapter punishes such crimes as theft of trade secrets, theft of intellectual property, and computer hacking. The punishments enumerated by Chapter 815 range from third-degree felonies, which is a maximum of five years in state prison, to a first-degree felony, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in state prison.
Florida law punishes other behavior as well. For example, §847.0137 of the Florida Statutes criminalizes the transmission of images considered to be child pornography. Furthermore, §847.0135 criminalizes soliciting a child. Additionally, §784.048 punishes cyberbullying. The federal government enacted laws that also punish individual behavior like computer fraud and identity theft.
The stakes are incredibly high when facing any crime in Florida. Therefore, contacting an aggressive and experienced Florida cybercrime defense attorney is the first call you must make if you were arrested or are suspected of committing a cybercrime in Florida.