Bill banning computer snooping clears Georgia House

Georgia lawmakers are making computer snooping a crime.

The Georgia House of Representatives voted 107-63 on Tuesday to approve a bill that bans accessing a computer or network without permission.

Georgia is one of three states nationwide that doesn’t prohibit unauthorized computer access. The state already has laws on the books against data theft and tampering.

Supporters of the legislation, Senate Bill 315, say it’s needed to stop hackers who penetrate a computer network in hopes of finding information they can later steal.

But opponents say it would also prevent legitimate computer security efforts, especially by tech experts who identify vulnerabilities and then notify businesses of the problems.

State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, said the bill specifically makes an exception for legitimate business activities.

“Any legitimate activity that anybody wants to undertake — whether that’s in the business setting or in the academic setting or frankly they’re just a freelance person who’s trying to do some public good — would be within the exceptions,” Coomer said.

Technology businesses say they remain concerned that the bill is too broad and could lead to prosecutions of internet security researchers.

“The only people who will be caught are those who come forward to warn vulnerable organizations that they have vulnerabilities,” said Chris Risley, CEO of Atlanta-based Bastille Networks Internet Security. “If someone comes forward and freely provides a warning of vulnerability, they should be thanked, not charged.”

Unauthorized computer access would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The bill now returns to the state Senate for potential final approval. 

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