On Beauty Queens, Hackers and the U.S. Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately decide whether a Florida beauty queen and her mother are criminals, and indeed, the entire scope of the computer crime statute. According to reports in the Washington Post, 50-year-old Laura Rose Carroll, an assistant principal in the Escambia County School District in Cantonment (near Pensacola, Florida), used her access to school district computers not only to monitor the activities (and grades) of her daughter, a student at J.M. Tate High School (go Aggies!), but ultimately to allow her daughter to “rig” the election for homecoming queen.

While the details are a bit confusing, it appears that Carroll allowed her daughter to use her credentials to gain privileged access to an internal school system called FOCUS, and that permitted the daughter not only to see the records of her friends and others in the high school, but also to access an online voting system, called Election Runner, used by the school.

The daughter used the access to cast 117 additional votes for herself, triggering warnings in the cloud-based election software when all of the votes came from the same IP address. Oops. Mom and daughter were criminally charged with one count each of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices (a 3rd degree felony), unlawful use of a two-way communications device (a 3rd degree felony), criminal use of personally identifiable information (a 3rd degree felony) and conspiracy to commit these offenses (a 1st degree misdemeanor).

This is where things MAY get murky. The Florida computer crime statute makes it a crime to “willfully, knowingly, and without authorization …access[] or cause[] to be accessed any computer, computer system, or computer network [and] …take[] …equipment or supplies used or intended to be used in a computer, computer system, or computer network… for the purpose of devising or executing any scheme or artifice to defraud or obtain property.”

The “two-way” communications crime is even more bizarre. The “two-way communications” crime makes it a felony in Florida to use “a two-way communications device … to facilitate or further the commission of any…