Crime Penalties Stiffen

FRAMINGHAM (05/08/2000) - Perpetrators of some computer crimes such as credit-card and identity theft and online copyright violations could soon face longer prison time and stricter sentencing terms.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission last week sent Congress new guidelines that would substantially stiffen penalties for computer crimes.

Covered under the recommendations also are harsher terms for Internet-related sexual offenses against minors and offenses such as the uploading of pirated software to illegal Web sites. If approved by Congress, the amendments would become effective Nov. 1.

"In a sense, this was almost inevitable," said Fred Cohen, president of Fred Cohen & Associates, a security consultancy in Livermore, California. "If you can't prevent crime, all you can do is increase the punishment."

Among the amendments proposed are the following:

- A 25% increase in the jail term for identity theft from present limits.

- A change in the way the loss attributable to a credit-card theft is calculated. The new guidelines would place a value of $500 on each stolen card, up from $100. The increase changes the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony and would allow prosecutors to seek higher sentences.

- An increase in prison terms for persons who use the Net to initiate a sexual relationship with a minor. Current guidelines limit a term to 24 months; proposed guidelines would push the limit to 51 months under some circumstances.

- A change in the way the value of pirated software is calculated for sentencing purposes. The result: an increase in prison terms from the current 14-month limit to 46 months in some cases.

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