Definition of Charge / Similar and Accompanying Offences
A very large percentage of computer crime offences involve child pornography in one form or another. Possession of child pornography, accessing child pornography and distribution of child pornography are very common offences. The number of prosecutions that occur for these offences is greater all the time.
Computer crime also is commonly involved in drug trafficking offences, because if a person is being investigated for dealing in drugs, the police will invariably seize their phone and do a forensics technical analysis of their phone.
Additionally, fraud cases will invariably involve large amounts of computer data because virtually all business records in this day and age are electronic.
Other types of computer crime include criminal harassment, uttering threats and the sharing of intimate images. The unauthorized sharing of intimate images is a charge that you see more and more and more, and a conviction often means jail. This is not simply a type of harassment, it is actually a standalone criminal charge, which is the “publication of intimate image without consent” (https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/section-162.1.html).
Another computer offence that is common is mischief to data, or unauthorized access to data. These charges are often laid against disgruntled IT employees who are going to lose their jobs. The cases are often quite winnable, but a conviction has very severe consequences.
Any crime where a cell phone has been seized will also contain a computer crime element, because effectively a cell phone is just a computer. Police will seek to extract all the data off of that phone. Text messages back and forth, etc. Having seen many technical analyses of cell phones, these generally run into the thousands of pages, and everything will be on there. [It is astonishing how often people take nudie pictures of themselves.]
Another thing that often happens is that a cell phone will be seized as part of an investigation for an assault or something like that, and as a result of the forensics examination of the phone, that person will be charged with a variety of pornography offences. This happens a lot.
Possible Outcomes of Charges / Minimum Sentence
Because computer crime includes so many different types of offences, the range of possible outcomes is enormous. Many computer crime offences can be very difficult to prove because while it can be easy to prove that a computer did a certain act, computers cannot be prosecuted for crimes. The next step is proving that the person charged with the criminal offence is in fact the one who operated the computer. That can be very difficult.
We have been able to get clients everything from peace bonds, discharges, and suspended sentences on certain types of offences involving mischief to data. A finding of guilt, be it a guilty plea or a criminal conviction, for child pornography offences is virtually always jail. The question is how much. The sentences range from one year to 10 years.
[When it comes to sentencing] accessing child pornography is typically the least serious, possession is in the middle, and distribution of child pornography is quite serious, with production of child pornography by far and away being the most serious and will typically result in a lengthy period of incarceration.
How not to get charged with a (pornography-related) computer crime
There are many pitfalls that are very easy to fall into when it comes to committing a criminal offence with a computer.
- Just because you’ve deleted something, that does not mean the files are no longer on your computer. Without getting into a lengthy technical explanation, deleting something does not mean you’ve actually gotten rid of it off of your computer. It commonly happens in pornography offences where people will be charged for items that they had deleted off of their computer that they think are no longer in their possession, but are still sitting in the computer memory somewhere.
- Downloading large quantities of pornography from the internet is an inherently dangerous activity. Some of it might be child pornography included within other files. This commonly happens. The police are looking for specific files through automated search technology and will often find them. If you are caught, it is entirely possible to have installed child pornography on your computer while you thought you were downloading legal pornography. However, you will never be able to convince a judge that that was unintentional. And since possession of child pornography is an automatic period of incarceration on conviction, this is a highly dangerous activity.
- Never buy someone else’s computer, unless you have the technical knowledge to properly wipe its memory.
- If you have any doubts about the legality of the pornography that you are in possession of or accessing, be aware that you are risking jail. Every time.
- Never allow strangers access to your wireless internet. Always secure your wifi with a password, and only give the password to people you trust. Because if someone uses your wifi to access child pornography, you could go to jail. The police may not be able to trace the child pornography accessing to the device that accessed it, but they definitely can trace it to the internet access points where it was downloaded from.
Accessing, possession, distribution and production of child pornography are all criminal offences. They are very serious criminal offences, which will result in significant to very large amounts of incarceration upon being found guilty. In addition to long jail time, these convictions include being on the sex offender registry for 10 years to life.
The most common way that the police locate persons who are in possession of child pornography is that they have a computer in their office, and they download child pornography from a peer-to-peer file sharing site. If you do not know what a peer-to-peer file sharing site is or how it functions, you should not be using one. The police then note what other computers are sharing the file that they have downloaded. With that information, they then find out the IP (Internet Protocol) address of that computer, then go to the internet service provider—be it Rogers or Shaw or whomever—and find out who the subscriber is with that IP address. They then go get a search warrant for that IP address, and they will show up at your house one day and seize all the computers in your house.
The reason why accessing or possessing child pornography is so dangerous is that the police can catch you without ever leaving the station, except to arrest you and seize your computers. If you’re using peer-to-peer file software, you’re automatically sharing those files with the world, that’s what the software is.
Even downloading legal pornography and regular mainstream movies can result in unintentionally downloading illegal types of pornography. These are inherently dangerous activities, and if you’re caught with illegal pornography, regardless of whether you obtained it on purpose or not, there is an excellent chance of incarceration.