What Computer Crime Does Not Address
Even with the definitions included in the statutes, the courts must interpret what a computer is. Legislators cannot define precisely what a computer is because computer technology is used in many other devices, such as robots, calculators, watches, automobiles, microwave ovens, and medical instruments. More importantly, we cannot predict what kinds of devices may be invented ten or fifty years from now. Therefore, the language in each of these laws indicates the kinds of devices the legislature seeks to include as computers and leaves it up to the court to rule on a specific case. Unfortunately, it takes awhile for courts to build up a pattern of cases, and different courts may rule differently in similar situations. The interpretation of each of these terms will be unsettled for some time to come.
Value presents a similar problem. As noted in some of the cases presented, the courts have trouble separating the intrinsic value of an object (such as a sheet of paper with writing on it) from its cost to reproduce. The courts now recognize that a Van Gogh painting is worth more than the cost of the canvas and paint. But the courts have not agreed on the value of printed computer output. The cost of a blank diskette is miniscule, but it may have taken thousands of hours of data gathering and machine time to produce the data encoded on a diskette. The courts are still striving to determine the fair value of computer objects.
Both the value of a person's privacy and the confidentiality of data about a person are even less settled. In a later section we consider how ethics and individual morality take over where the law stops.