Wednesday, 12 Jun 2024
Technology

Does Logging into Another Person’s Social Media Account Amount to a Criminal Offense?

Whether you suspect your spouse of cheating or are just curious about what kinds of group chats your friends are in, it may be tempting to access someone’s social media account without them knowing. But is it considered a criminal offense? Let’s explore the legal consequences of such actions.

The NSW Offense of Unauthorised Access to Restricted Data

Under section 308H of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), it is an offense punishable by up to 2 years in prison to gain unauthorized access to, or modification of, restricted data held in a computer. To establish the offense, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt the following:

  1. You caused access to, or modification of, data held in a computer.
  2. You did so intentionally.
  3. You were not authorized to cause that access or modification.
  4. The data was restricted data.
  5. You knew the data was restricted data.

‘Data held in a computer’ refers to data entered or copied into a computer, data held in any removable storage which was in a computer for a time, or data held in any data storage device on a computer network of which a computer forms a part.

‘Access’ to data held in a computer means the display of data by the computer or any other output of the data, the copying or moving of the data to any other place in the computer or to any data storage device, or the execution of any program.

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‘Modification’ of data held in a computer means the alteration or removal of data, or the addition of data.

Your actions are considered ‘unauthorized’ if you were not entitled to cause them. However, your actions are not unauthorized merely because you had an ulterior motive for them or if you were an ‘authorized person’ such as a police or other law enforcement officer and your actions were to preserve, or to prevent the concealment, fabrication, destruction, or loss of evidence of any offense.

The term ‘restricted data’ refers to data held in a computer to which access is restricted by an access control system associated with a function of the computer. Proceedings for the offense must be commenced no later than 12 months from the date of the alleged commission of the offense.

The Federal Offense of Unauthorised Access to Restricted Data

A similar offense is covered under section 478.1(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), which applies across the nation. To establish the offense, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt the following:

  1. You caused unauthorized access to, or modification of, data.
  2. You intended to do so.
  3. You knew the access or modification was unauthorized.
  4. The data was restricted data.

‘Data’ refers to information in any form, including any program or part of a program.

‘Restricted data’ is data held in a computer, access to which is restricted by an access control system associated with a function of that computer.

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‘Data held in a computer’ includes removable data storage devices being held in a computer and data storage devices on a computer network of which the computer forms a part.

‘Modification’ of data held in a computer means the alteration or removal of the data, or an addition to the data.

You are deemed to have caused unauthorized access or modification if you substantially contributed to it. Unlike the New South Wales offense, there is no time limit for bringing proceedings under the Commonwealth legislation.

Defending the Allegation

If you are accused of one of these offenses, you can defend the charge on the basis that:

  • You did not intend to access restricted data.
  • Access was authorized or you were entitled to cause that access.
  • The data accessed does not constitute “restricted data”.
  • A legal defense applies to your circumstances, such as duress, necessity, or self-defense.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is it ever legal to access someone’s social media account without their permission?
A: No, accessing someone’s social media account without their permission is generally considered unauthorized and may be illegal.

Q: Can the owner of the social media account report unauthorized access to the authorities?
A: Yes, the owner of the social media account can report unauthorized access to the authorities, leading to potential legal consequences for the offender.

Q: Are there any exceptions to the unauthorized access laws?
A: There are some exceptions, such as authorized access by law enforcement officers or actions taken to preserve evidence of an offense.

Conclusion

Unauthorized access to someone’s social media account without their permission can have legal consequences. Under both New South Wales and Commonwealth legislation, accessing or modifying restricted data without authorization can result in criminal charges. It is important to be aware of the laws and understand the potential consequences before attempting to access someone’s social media account without their knowledge or consent.

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