Peter V. Roman


The author points out that when reading computer crime statutes, federal courts sometimes study the minutiae of technology at the expense of congressional intent, plain language, and fair warning to criminal defendants. The author asserts that by focusing on the actual, but transient and morally irrelevant, design of information systems, the courts are undermining criminal law in the digital world. The author explains how traditional tools of statutory interpretation have failed to stop this approach to the interpretation of computer crime statutes. To solve this dilemma, the author points out that courts need a new tool to help them apply computer crime statutes in a consistent manner across increasingly complex and constantly evolving technology. The author suggests that when interpreting computer crime statutes, courts should focus less on the transitory technicalities of how things work, in the digital world at that particular moment, and more on the moral purpose of the law. The author proposes that by treating the design of the underlying technology as a black box, essentially ignoring the transitory and legally irrelevant behavior of information systems, courts will have an easier time making consistent decisions that reflect the moral and constitutional underpinnings of computer criminal law. This will make the interpretation of computer crime statutes more consistent with congressional intent and the relevant decisions more predictable.