Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Do you know? Ohio has criminal penalties for unauthorized computer use or access

Ohio has criminal statutes that cover employees’ unauthorized use or access of their employers’ computers. Ohio Revised Code 2913.04 criminalizes, as a felony, the unauthorized use of property and the unauthorized access to a computer:

(A) No person shall knowingly use or operate the property of another without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent.

(B) No person, in any manner and by any means, including, but not limited to, computer hacking, shall knowingly gain access to, attempt to gain access to, or cause access to be gained to any computer, computer system, computer network, cable service, cable system, telecommunications device, telecommunications service, or information service without the consent of, or beyond the scope of the express or implied consent of, the owner of the computer, computer system, computer network, cable service, cable system, telecommunications device, telecommunications service, or information service or other person authorized to give consent.

State v. Wolf (Ohio Ct. App. 4/28/09) [PDF] illustrates how these statutes operate.

Richard Lee Wolf worked at the Shelby, Ohio, Wastewater Treatment Plant. When a supervisor was cleaning files off an old computer, he came across a nude photo of Wolf. During the subsequent investigation, Wolf admitted that he had visited a website called “Adult Friend Finder” during work hours to meet women, some of whom asked for a nude picture. The city then conducted a forensic examination of the computer’s hard drive. and found 703 pornographic photos. It also found several sexually explicit emails, such as the following, in which Wolf appears to have been soliciting services from a dominatrix named Madam Patrice:

First off, thank you for taking the time to remember me. I have yet to be at the mercy of a true dom mistress. You are incredibly seductive, and I would love for you to be the first one to ‘break me in’. We’re talking ‘light stuff’ here, OK! Also, I have never been involved in any monetary transactions or arrangements….so this is all new to me. Obviously I would be with you for at least an hour, but I would prefer to be with you for at (sic) 2 hrs, contingent on your discount. Is it possible to spend the last half hour or so being your lover? Whatever is possible, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you again. Have a great weekend. Rick.

When the city confronted Wolf with the mass of photos and emails, Wolf admitted that he had spent over 100 hours of work time on the internet for personal business. As a result of the investigation, Wolf was not only fired, but also successfully prosecuted under 2913.04. The court found that the convictions were warranted because the city had not authorized or consented to Wolf’s use of his work computer to upload nude photos or himself, to access pornographic websites, or to solicit sex for money.

Only extreme case will justify an employer filing criminal charges against an employee for misuse of work computers. Nevertheless, the Wolf case illustrates the importance of periodic monitoring how employees use workplace technology.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.