Mother Charged With Cyber Crimes After Altering Homecoming Results
Yesterday in Escambia County, police arrested a mother and her teenage daughter for hacking into a student and school accounts with authorization to do so, in an attempt to alter homecoming results in her daughter’s favor. After initial research, police who remanded the suspect to county jail determined she is a school employee at Belleview Elementary and is indefinitely suspended. Her daughter is remanded at a juvenile detention center for the time being. The defendant is accused of unlawfully accessing student account data since 2019, and is charged with unlawful use of a two-way communication device, criminal use of personally identifiable information, conspiracy and unlawful use of school computer systems and network access.
Prosecuting Cyber Crimes
Criminal use of personal identifiable information (PII) is a very serious cyber crime. Depending on the nature of the occurrence, the defendant could be looking at state and federal charges for the same malfeasance. PII includes a person’s name, address, email address, phone number, birthdate, SSN, TIN (tax identification number) or other information used to identify a specific individual. Florida Statute 817.568 states that anyone convicted of criminal use of PII can face a potential sentence of five years in prison for committing a third-degree felony. Fl. Stat. § 817.568 (2020). In the instant case, the defendant could potentially be handed an enhanced sentence for multiple violations of PII fraud, because she and her daughter allegedly hacked into the private accounts of more than 150 students.
In addition, criminal access of school records could potentially violate FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA is governed by the U.S. Department of Education. The act protects the privacy of students, their grades, transcripts and other education records. Unauthorized access of a student’s educational records is a federal crime. It’s unclear whether the defendant in the instant case simply wanted to rig a student homecoming election or if she also tampered with student grades and records, but she did allegedly commit fraud by accessing student accounts containing their PII and potentially a list of classes they completed and grades assigned. This may constitute a FERPA violation under 20 U.S.C. § 1232g.
Criminal & Professional Implications for a School Employee
The defendant, a school employee currently on indefinite suspension, was also charged with criminal use of a two-way communication device and unlawful use of school computer systems. It’s not unfair to speculate that the defendant may be terminated pending the results of a school investigation or violation of employee ethics or code of conduct. Because of the nature of the crimes, it’s also likely the defendant will be barred from future employment with any public school system in Florida or other states requiring a criminal background check contingent to an employment offer.
If convicted of offensives against users of computers, computer systems and computer networks, the defendant could face up to 10 years in prison. This is because she allegedly committed the offense for the purpose of defrauding the school and purporting to be each student that cast a false vote for her daughter as homecoming queen, making the crime a second degree felony.
Contact Attorney Bryant Scriven with Questions
If you have questions about cybercrimes or were recently charged with a crime, contact Tampa criminal lawyer Bryant Scriven. As a former prosecutor with substantive experience handling federal and state offenses, he can offer invaluable advice and guidance during a tumultuous time. Contact his office today to schedule a consultation.