What is Illegal and Legal on the Internet?

man on a laptop

Anything that is illegal offline is also illegal on the internet, including fraud, theft, gambling, drug trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography. Certain internet crimes, however, may only be committed online, and some people do not even realize they’re engaging in illegal behavior.

So, let’s go over what’s illegal and legal on the internet:

Legal and Illegal Streaming Services

Unofficial streaming services are illegal, and streaming movies online without permission is a violation of copyright law. Additionally, a website that steals and streams content may have no problem stealing your personal data.

Torrenting (or downloading and uploading files through the BitTorrent network) is not illegal, but it is often associated with digital piracy, which is a crime.

Instead of torrenting content or using unofficial streaming services, choose content that is available for purchase on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, or another affordable rental or streaming service.

What Is Illegal to Watch on the Internet?

Watching stolen content on the internet is illegal (see above), and certain kinds of content are illegal in all forms. For example, if you engage with child pornography in any way – including watching it online – you could be arrested and charged with a crime.

Although accessing pornography online is not a crime, and pornography is one of the most successful industries on the internet, you must be extremely careful when browsing explicit content.

With self-produced content, you never know how old the performers are, and many unofficial adult entertainment sites do not have stringent requirements for age, consent, and other factors that may obscure legality.

You can face child pornography charges even if you didn’t know the content you were viewing contained minors.

Legal and Illegal Internet Searches

Even searching the internet for child pornography is illegal, and other searches can attract unwanted attention, as well. If you search for ways to commit crimes, for instance, you may be placed on a watchlist and even suspected of the crime you searched.

Examples of illegal internet searches may include:

  • Child pornography
  • Criminals for hire
  • Joining online terrorist organizations
  • How to make homemade explosives
  • How to commit/clean up after a murder
  • Obtaining or modifying (illegal) weapons
  • Hiring a prostitute
  • Buying drugs online
  • Anything on the dark web

Remember, anything that is illegal offline is illegal online, as well. If you search for something illegal, you may attract the attention of law enforcement. Your Google searches can be used against you if you are charged with a crime.

What’s Allowed on Social Media?

Many people use social media to keep in touch with friends and family and share their lives with one another, which is allowed and encouraged on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. To use social media, however, you must adhere to the site’s “terms of use,” or risk being removed.

Further, some online behaviors are illegal on social media. For example, you cannot fake your identity online or use someone else’s information without their knowledge and permission with the intent to harm or deceive them. Lying about your age to talk to or gather information about minors is also illegal.

Similarly, sharing someone else’s address, password, or photos without their consent (sometimes called doxxing) is illegal, especially if the photos or information you share are explicit (revenge porn). Harassing or stalking someone online is illegal, as well.

Any behavior meant to harm or deceive another person can on social media can be illegal. Most states even have laws against cyberbullying, and you can get charged with murder if your online bullying leads to someone’s suicide (see Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter).

Common Internet Crimes

The most common internet crimes include fraud or theft. With phishing, for instance, fraudsters steal personal information, and identity theft is extremely common online. People can also hack into computer systems to steal confidential information.

Many crimes that can be committed in person can also be committed – or arranged – online. Many people use the internet to buy drugs, hire prostitutes, harass others, or commit crimes against children.

Cybercrime is just as serious as other criminal activity, and the charges for internet crimes can result in both misdemeanors and felonies.

Being convicted of a cybercrime can result in fines, jail time, and other serious consequences, including losing your constitutional rights and being registered as a sex offender.

If you are being investigated for your online activity or charged with a cybercrime, contact a defense attorney as soon as possible.

Our team at Foley Griffin has been helping people navigate crime and technology since the early days of the internet in 1997. We have over 75 years of combined legal experience, and as former prosecutors, we understand all sides of the law.

For a tailored approach to your case, please call our award-winning attorneys at (888) 966-8480 or contact us online.

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