“When privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy.”  Phil Zimmerman

Since the internet changed the way we work, communicate, socialize, and conduct other tasks, our privacy has become more at risk every day.  We have to install things like spyware, adware, anti-virus software, and other safeguards to try to protect our personal information.

However, these software systems cannot compete with intelligent and determined people who seek to invade our privacy. 

The State of Georgia is known for protecting the privacy rights of the people.  The 4th Amendment to the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.  O.C.G.A. 16-9-93 and O.C.G.A. 16-11-62 protect us from unlawful searches and seizures by private citizens.

There are too many crimes listed in both statutes to address in this column.  Below, you will find the criminal acts that are most commonly committed and prosecuted. 

1.  Computer Trespass. Under O.C.G.A. 16-9-93(b), any person who uses a computer or computer network with knowledge that such use is without authority and with the intention of:

(1) Deleting or in any way removing, either temporarily or permanently, any computer program or data from a computer or computer network;

(2) Obstructing, interrupting, or in any way interfering with the use of a computer program or data; or

(3) Altering, damaging, or in any way causing the malfunction of a computer, computer network, or computer program, regardless of how long the alteration, damage, or malfunction persists shall be guilty of the crime of computer trespass.

2.  Computer Invasion of Privacy – Under subsection (c), a person will be guilty when they use a computer or remote computer network with the intention of examining any employment, medical, salary, credit, or any other financial or personal data relating to any other person with knowledge that such examination is without authority.

O.C.G.A. §16-9-92(18) defines “without authority” to include the use of a computer or computer network in a manner that exceeds any right or permission granted by the owner of the computer or computer network.

For example, I represented a man who worked in a cubicle beside his co-worker.  When the co-worker would go to lunch, my client would allegedly examine his internet history and websites that he visited.  Allegedly, my client’s motive was to use this information to get his co-worker fired.  Instead, my client got arrested.

While my client was blessed with grace by the judge, the penalties for this felony are severe.  If convicted of Computer Trespass or Computer Invasion of Privacy, a person can receive a fine up to $50,000, up to 15 years in prison, or both.  The sentence can be probated.

3.  Unlawful Eavesdropping or Surveillance – O.C.G.A 16-11-62 provides the most stringent law that protects our privacy.  Some of the law’s provisions include that it shall be unlawful for:  

(1) Any person in a clandestine manner intentionally to overhear, transmit, or record or attempt to overhear, transmit, or record the private conversation of another which shall originate in any private place. (However, it is legal to record a conversation between yourself and another person);

 (3) Any person to go on or about the premises of another or any private place, except as otherwise provided by law, for the purpose of invading the privacy of others by eavesdropping upon their conversations or secretly observing their activities;

   (4) Any person intentionally and secretly to intercept by the use of any device, instrument, or apparatus the contents of a message sent by telephone, telegraph, letter, or by any other means of private communication; or

   (6) Any person to sell, give, or distribute, without legal authority, to any person or entity any photograph, videotape, or record, or copies thereof, of the activities of another which occur in any private place and out of public view without the consent of all persons observed.

16-11-62 is also a felony offense.  If convicted, the range of punishment is between one and five years or a fine up to $10,000.00, or both.  The sentence can be probated. 

These two statutes do not provide exceptions for family, friends, or spouses.  In another case, I represented a husband who had pulled up his wife’s computer screen, viewed her personal financial account, and used that information for his own purpose.  Even though the case was eventually dismissed because of evidence issues, he was arrested, had to hire a lawyer, lived with uncertainty for months, and suffered great embarrassment.

Georgians are fortunate that our governors, legislators, attorneys general, and district attorneys have made our privacy a serious God given right to protect. 

Let’s continue to make Georgia the leader in protecting our right to privacy.