What is the Point?

Today I’ve watched with interest as news reports have come in about the arrests of suspected Anonymous and Lulzsec members. I’ve felt a weird mixture of both disgust and pride that many of these people reside in the UK but I’m left feeling utter and complete shame regarding the laws and legal system to which these people will be held to account.

The Computer Misuse Act (1990) is the law that deals primarily with “hacking” offences. Twenty years ago this was probably fine because groups like Anonymous didn’t exist, probably because the internet wasn’t around in the form we know today. The fact that the law is now 21 years old, and that there has been no legitimate successor, is astonishing.

The most shocking thing is the potential sentence for those offenders in the UK. Here we have people that have maliciously attacked companies costing millions, and potentially billions, of lost revenue. So, what is the maximum sentence that can be given for these offences under CMA90? Well, the law states that the sentence has to be given by a magistrate’s court. This means a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment or a £5,000 fine. Yes, that’s all. The offence is considered so low that a jury isn’t even called.

I have not been able to find a single example of anyone ever having received the maximum sentence for any offence brought under CMA90.

Where’s the deterrent? These people are released, if the magistrates decide to even send them to prison, and typically walk into high-paying security jobs.

Technology moves so quickly and I understand the pressure on politicians to keep up with everything but these people are suspected of causing chaos, disruption and significant financial loss. The limits of this law need to be addressed now.

2 responses to “What is the Point?”

  1. Lee, That’s why Gary McKinnon and his vast army of supporters are so keen to have him tried in the UK and not extradited to the US where he is likely upon conviction to receive a stiff custodial sentence.

    I also note that Ryan Cleary has also claimed to have Asperger’s the same condition that McKinnon was diagnosed with after losing one of his numerous appeals against extradition.

    Not sure about your comment about feeling a mixture of pride and disgust that these hackers are from UK. They’re criminals and as the old saying goes if you’re big enough to do the crime then you’re big enough to do the time.

  2. I’ll stand corrected on this if required, Lee, but my personal interpretation is that the type of activity attributed to Lulzsec, Anonymous et al, on the level you mentioned, would probably fall under ss2-3 of CMA90.

    Now, I’ve checked, and there’s nothing in the Sentencing Council’s handy ENORMOUS BINDER(or pdf on phone if you’re a geek like me) which specifically covers these offences – but the Act itself does detail higher penalties for the offences under ss2-3.

    My interpretation again, is that these offences are triable either way, so a Magistrates’ Court could refuse jurisdiction and send it to the Crown Court if it was a serious case.

    As well as this, given that the offences can be tried either summarily or on indictment… if the offence called for it, and if there was a conviction in the Magistrates’ Court, I’d have no problem then referring the case to Crown Court for stronger sentencing under the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/6/part/I/crossheading/committal-to-crown-court-for-sentence)

    Like I said, it’s Friday night and my brain has quite possibly haywire, so I’ll stand corrected if required. I completely agree that since 1990, the definition of ‘computer’ has no doubt changed, the social persaviveness of whatever you want to label as a computer has shot through the roof, and the potential for serious harm from this type of offence is ever more apparent. It’s a bit of a pet interest of mine, seeing how Magistrates’ Courts handle digital and techie stuff… if anybody has any contributions, I’d love to hear them.

    STANDARD DISCLAIMER STATING THE REALLY, DESPERATELY OBVIOUS: The above is my personal opinion and should not be taken as an indication of the views of Micro Systemation, the Magistrates’ Court or HMC&TS.

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