Technology, property, and law - The case of computer crime

Raymond J. Michalowski, Erdwin H. Pfuhl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Between 1975 and 1986 forty-eight states passed laws specifically criminalizing unauthorized access to computer-based information. Thirty of these states passed their computer crime laws between 1982 and 1985. This flurry of legislative activity occurred in a climate of concern for the need to stem what was characterized as a 'wave of computer crime.' The data presented here, however, indicate that these laws did not result in any corresponding wave of prosecutions of computer criminals. This suggests that social forces other than an instrumental need for a mechanism to prosecute computer criminals played a role in the passage of computer crime laws. Specifically, we argue that the passage of computer crime laws resulted from the need to incorporate a new form of value within the establish framework of property rights, and a desire to preserve established relationships between power and knowledge that were threatened by the emergence of computer technology. We conclude by suggesting that the study of law-making is enhanced by examining the structural bases for the motives of legislators and advocates of legal change, in addition to the motives themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-275
Number of pages21
JournalCrime, Law and Social Change
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • General Social Sciences
  • Law


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