Computer crime: A growing threat to public safety

Computer crimes are a growing threat in our technologically dependent society. Consumers rightfully fear hackers who can assume their identities and gain access to bank and credit card accounts, stealing billions each year. Unfortunately, the vulnerability of emergency and other government computer systems which impact the safety and welfare of millions is often overlooked.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that a caller threatened to paralyze a San Diego hospital by shutting down the hospital’s phone service if a dispatcher didn’t submit to his extortion demands. A short time later, the ER’s six phone lines were silenced. For nearly 48 hours, ambulance services and patients’ families calling the hospital received constant busy signals. The suspect had simply generated enough calls to tie up the phone lines using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology.

In response to this incident, I introduced AB 1649, which expands the California Comprehensive Computer Data Act to combat this growing threat. The bill updates current legal definitions to include modern technology, clarifies that denial of service attacks are a species of computer hacking, and includes governmental computer systems, including public safety infrastructure systems operated by hospitals, emergency services and public utility companies.

I am happy to report that AB 1649 passed the Assembly with unanimous support on May 5. The bill has been forwarded to the Senate, where prospects for final legislative approval appear to be bright.

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