E-Punishment: How Much Is Too Much?

Wednesday, 5 March 2003, 5:04 PM EST

You don't have to be F. Lee Bailey to worry about cybercrime. Stories in the trades and the general press sound the alarm loud and clear, seemingly every day. But a trio of legal defense groups—including the influential Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)—is questioning what happens after a hacker gets nabbed.

They say the punishment meted out to the few cybercrooks who actually get caught has been too harsh. A paper they prepared for the government says those convicted are receiving sentences based on the fear of the worst-case scenario, rather than what the case may really be about.

But has the "worst-case scenario" already arrived? Just recently, a hacker gained access to millions of credit card numbers by breaching the security of a company that processes transactions for merchants. What's more, it's tough to catch a malicious hacker. The FBI agents can quickly get subpoenas from the courts, but it often loses critical time trying to serve them. Agents can spend weeks sorting through digital smokescreens created by multiple servers, which means serving multiple subpoenas. No wonder courts react so strongly when sentencing the e-crooks who are apprehended.

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