South Florida Cyber Crime Attorney on Protecting Your Data Privacy

February 3, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

The Battalion, Texas A&M University's school newspaper, reported Feb. 2 that an associate professor turned himself into the police on charges of possession of child pornography. According to the article, a co-worker contacted the police after noticing that the man had shared files with questionable content on the university's network through iTunes. A police detective told the paper that he did not believe the man meant to share the files. He is charged with seven felony counts of possession of child pornography, each of which is a third-degree felony carrying two to 10 years in prison.

Regardless of whether this man meant to share the files, possession of child pornography is illegal -- if that's what the materials are. However, I'm also interested in the fact that he probably didn't mean to share those files publicly. As a Fort Lauderdale cyber crime criminal lawyer, I've learned that many users don't even realize how easy it is to accidentally expose their data to the world. Many computer programs and even operating systems (like Windows Vista or MacOS X) come with the ability to share files on a local network or the entire Internet. These programs may come with file-sharing already enabled or disabled by default; that decision is up to the software's publisher.

Of course, you have the option to change the default settings -- but not everyone realizes they can or should. If you leave file-sharing on, or share folders without making sure you know what's in them, you may end up allowing your co-workers or family to see materials you would rather keep private. This has implications beyond content that might merely be embarrassing. For example, if you have lists of your clients' names and Social Security numbers on your work computer, you are responsible for keeping that information private. If you don't, it could fall into the hands of identity thieves, with serious consequences for your company and your job.

Being aware of "cyber safety" can also help you avoid being the victim of a crime yourself. You probably know that the Internet is full of viruses and other "malware" that can harm your computer. As I've written here before, a hostile programmer can also write a program that turns your computer into a miniature Internet server -- a host computer. Once this program is on your machine, people who want to escape detection can route their Internet activities through your computer without you noticing. You may not be trafficking in child pornography or illegally transferring stolen money into offshore bank accounts, but to investigators, it will look like you are.

Of course, you'll have a chance to explain the truth and defend yourself -- but usually not until after you've been arrested, detained, imprisoned and humiliated. As a Miami cyber crime criminal attorney, I can promise you that law enforcement does not generally have a sympathetic ear for people they believe are guilty of serious crimes. If you can avoid problems by checking or unchecking a box -- as this man in Texas may have been able to do -- it's worth investigating.