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Many states have criminal laws that prohibit accessing any computer or network without the owner's permission.

For example, in Texas, the statute is Penal Code section 33.02, Breach of Computer Security.

Most computer users have heard of this law, signed in 1998 by President Clinton, implementing two World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties.

The DMCA makes it a criminal offense to circumvent any kind of technological copy protection — even if you don't violate anyone's copyright in doing so.

The inclusion of the culpable mental state of "knowing" as an element of the offense means that if your computer automatically connects to your neighbor's wireless network instead of your own and you aren't aware of it, you haven't committed a crime.

But if you decide to hop onto the nearest unencrypted Wi-Fi network to surf the Internet, knowing full well that it doesn't belong to you and no one has given you permission, you could be prosecuted under these laws.

According to reports, another provision would allow customs agents to conduct random searches of laptops, MP3 players, and cell phones for illegally downloaded or ripped music and movies.

Not surprisingly, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a supporter of the treaty.

This applies to all sorts of copy-protected files, including music, movies, and software. Thus, just making a copy of a copyrighted work for a friend now makes you subject to up to five years in prison and/or up to 0,000 in fines.

In this article, we'll take a look at some of the existing laws and some of the pending legislation that can influence how we use our computers and the Internet.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice; this is merely an overview of some of the legislation that's out there, how it has been interpreted by the courts (if applicable), and possible implications for computer users.

This is the law referred to in the familiar "FBI Warning" that appears at the beginning of most DVD movies. Many people who consider themselves upstanding citizens and who would never post music and movies to a P2P site think nothing of burning a copy of a song or TV show for a friend.

Unfortunately, by the letter of the law, the latter is just as illegal as the former.

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