Computer law encompasses all of the laws that relate to the transfer, use and storage of electronic information. Basically, it’s any law that has to do with computers and other electronic devices that store information. Computer law includes a wide range of topics including security, private property rights and even constitutional law.
When you buy a computer, sign up for an account on a website or even complete a credit application online, you have to check the box that says that you understand the terms and conditions of the agreement. A computer lawyer wrote that agreement. Computer lawyers must know all of the laws that relate to contracts and computers.
Companies in the computing business use contracts in their every day operations. For example, a company that sells online may need to contract with another business for processing online purchases. They may need to contract with a third party in order to develop a website or custom software to operate their business. All of this important contract work falls under the auspices of computer law.
Computer lawyers contemplate and address how to keep private information safe in a world where the information is available at the click of a button. Lawyers help their clients determine how to best secure customer information. They implement policies to protect the company from liability in the event of a breach. They must determine whether a company can share the personal information that they collect and how to do so lawfully.
Computers and intellectual property are intertwined. Companies create new products, artistic works and marketing strategies to do business online. Computer lawyers need to help these companies preserve their work so that they can be the ones who profit from it. A computer lawyer might help a client ask for a patent for new technology. They might also register a trademark for the company’s sole use.
Copyright violations are a common issue in the computer world. Online, it’s often easy to violate someone else’s copyright to make a quick buck. Computer lawyers need to be ready to help their clients enforce copyrights and preserve their exclusive use of their products. On the other hand, it can also be easy for unscrupulous companies and individuals to use the anonymity of the internet world to claim copyrights where they don’t exist. In that case, businesses and individuals have to be prepared to fight back. Fighting back against unjustified copyright infringement allegations is another important area of computer law.
With the advent of the internet, people say all kinds of things in a public forum. Not only do they use the internet to talk about specific individuals, they use websites like Craigslist and Airbnb to market their products. Third-party marketing services create new questions about the liability of these website owners to customers.
Even companies like Google have to grapple with what user information is fair game and whether they must disclose information to the government if the government requests it. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 says that third-party websites are not liable for the content of individuals who post on their sites. Computer lawyers must know what privacy laws exist and how to reply to court subpoenas and government requests for information.
People use computers to commit crimes. Some of these crimes have a single victim. Other crimes target government information or politicians. Criminals use the internet and computers to scam victims out of their life savings. They also use computers to make money transfers to aid in the commission of crime. Computers have made our lives easier, and unfortunately the same goes for crime.
Computers lawyers who focus on computer crimes have to think a step ahead. They might think of laws to help detect and stop computer crimes. They might work as prosecuting officials to hold criminals accountable for their actions. Computer attorneys also defend the individuals charged with committing crimes using the computer.
The federal government regulates communications. From the days of the first AM and FM radio broadcasts to today’s modern technology, the government has always had its hand in the way that communications companies do business. It’s up the computer companies and the telecommunications industry to know what laws regulate them. From market share to bandwidth to whether they can prioritize some content over others, there are a great deal of regulations that computer and telecommunications providers have to know and follow. Computers lawyers make this possible. They also help companies if there’s litigation or hearings on alleged violations of government regulations.
Computer law has constitutional implications. The issue of free speech on the internet is a constant question. Computers are the newest forum for the ongoing debates about the limits of the First Amendment.
Constitutional law and computer law also intersect when it comes to search and seizure questions. Court have to determine when law enforcement can search a computer or another electronic device. With information so readily available these days, law enforcement officers often believe that this information should be available to them without a warrant. Computer lawyers are there to serve as a check on the government’s power.
Major computer law legislation includes:
The Computer Security Law of 1987
Law makers first addressed the importance of privacy in electronic data in the Computer Security Law of 1987. The law created minimum standards for electronically stored information. Congress later repealed the Computer Security Law of 1987 with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002.
Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002
The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 replaced the Computer Security Law of 1987 with new rules and regulations for electronic information held at government agencies. Each agency must develop and implement an agency-wide plan and policy for the security of electronic information. Their plan must assess and address security risks that may be present regarding the storage of electronic information within the agency. They must create reports about their compliance with the law. Federal agencies spend billions of dollars each year on information technology.
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
This law criminalizes fraudulent practices that involve computers. It criminalizes accessing a federal computer without authorization. In addition, it criminalizes intentionally inflicting a government computer with a virus. Password stealing and extortion are also prohibited under the Act.
Other state laws
The federal government isn’t the only one making laws about computers. Most states have laws that regulate computer use too. For example, Michigan outlaws using a computer to commit a crime. A person that faces this criminal charge also faces charges for whatever crime they used the computer to commit. Michigan also bans using the internet to harass or stalk someone. Most states have laws that are similar.
Why practice computer law?
Computers have changed the world. They make it easier to do lawful things, and they make it easier to break the law. Attorneys who practice computer law have the important task of deciding how to regulate the internet and why. They create, enforce, implement and challenge the laws that regulate computers and electronic communication. Computer law attorneys are at the forefront of a rapidly changing world.
Practicing computer law presents exciting challenges. It’s an area of law that’s growing and developing. Whether they work for a private company or the government, computer attorneys help shape this change. The work might involve lobbying and developing ways to implement policy in addition to all of the other practice areas of computer law.
There can be a lot of money on the line when it comes to computers. One data breach can cost a company millions of dollars and their reputation. Attorneys who sign on to handle the high-pressure world of computer law can find themselves highly paid for their work. In addition, attorneys who enjoy scientific and technical information might enjoy interweaving computer sciences with their practice of law.
Finding a career in computers
A career in computers can be challenging. For attorneys who love tech, it can be a great fit. Computer attorneys have the opportunity to create laws that make computers and the internet operate the way that they do. Working on the forefront of this industry requires technical knowledge, a high capacity for reading and writing and even discussions of ethics, fairness and the best practices in society. It’s an exciting way to practice law and make decisions that impact all Americans and beyond.