Under a proposed "computer crime bill," if you use a computer in the commission of an offense that damages "national security, human welfare, the economy or the environment" you could face a life sentence.
The proposal only vaguely defines the offenses in question, and also what "using a computer" means -- in the 21st century, it's hard to imagine any activity that doesn't make use of a computer in some way. A broadly worded bill that provides for terrible penalties who fall afoul of it is a gift to bullying governments and prosecutors, who can use it to go after whistleblowers and leakers, to extract plea bargains from defendants who might choose to risk a trial if the stakes were lower, and to chill dissent and protest.
It seems unlikely that the bill would be used to prosecute bankers who use computers to crash the whole economy.
The government says the legislation was needed to deal with catastrophic cyber attacks “which result in loss of life, serious illness or injury or serious damage to national security, or a significant risk thereof”.
It says that as well as targeting cyber terrorists, the new offence in the proposed update to the Computer Misuse Act 1990 would also hand harsher sentences to those hackers carrying out industrial espionage, believed to be a growing menace affecting UK business.
Computer users who damage national security could face jail [Matthew Taylor/The Guardian]
(Image: Hanging Cadge & Gibbet, The Clink Prison Museum, Southwark, London, Sheri, CC-BY-SA)
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