South Florida Cyber Crime Criminal Defense Attorney on the Importance of Understanding Technology in Cyber Crimes

April 21, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, a panel that sets sentences for federal crimes, avoided making a potentially serious mistake last week. The Associated Press reported April 15 that the panel has dropped a proposal to make the use of a proxy server a sentence enhancement for people who are convicted of cyber crimes. According to the piece, the change would have increased sentences by about 25% for people accused of using a proxy server to hide their identities online. Critics said the proposed language was too broad.

To understand why they think so, it might help to review what proxy servers are. Whenever you view a Web page like this one, your computer -- called the client in networking lingo -- is sending a request for information to the Web server that hosts the page. A proxy server is an optional go-between that would receive your request and relay it to the Web server, then send the page to your machine.

Law enforcement is interested in proxy servers because criminals use them to hide their internet provider (IP) addresses, so they can commit online crimes anonymously. However, proxy servers can also be used to avoid viruses, filter out inappropriate content and cache frequently visited pages for quick retrieval. That means proxy servers are very widespread -- and indeed, some people advocate them as an easy way to make your computer more secure. That’s why privacy advocates and internet security experts were upset at the Justice Department’s proposal to increase sentences for anyone convicted of using a proxy server to commit a crime. The Sentencing Commission rejected that proposal April 15.

As a cyber crime criminal defense lawyer in Miami, I applaud that move. This is a good example of how important it is for law enforcement and legislators to understand technology thoroughly before they make new laws. The Justice Department’s proposal was aimed at criminal organizations using sophisticated networks of proxy servers to cover their tracks -- but under the proposed language, it was just as likely to net someone who used a computer at a public library to commit a crime. That crime might be quite serious, but the use of proxy servers there would not only not be a sign of “sophistication,” but not even voluntary.

These sorts of technological details are often very important in my practice as a Fort Lauderdale cyber crime criminal defense attorney. Thanks to my experience in the Cyber Crimes unit of the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office, I understand that things are not always exactly as they seem when it comes to computers. Very small details can hold the key to an Internet crime case. Just as importantly to my South Florida cyber crime criminal defense clients, I understand how law enforcement investigates cyber crimes -- and can use that knowledge to mount them the best possible defense.