Computer Crime Law


In this course, each voice in the classroom has something of value to contribute. Please take care to respect the different experiences, beliefs and values expressed by students and staff involved in this course. My colleagues and I support UMass’s commitment to diversity, and welcome individuals regardless of age, background, citizenship, disability, sex, education, ethnicity, family status, gender, gender identity, geographical origin, language, military experience, political views, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and work experience.

View this syllabus as a guide to the course. It provides important information regarding the course, its assignments, policies, grading, and available university resources. Students should refer to it regularly. Importantly, please note that document is a working document, and may be changed during the course. Throughout the semester, it is possible that a topic may take more time than expected, topics or assignments may change, or a class may be canceled due to a snow day or another emergency. If that is the case, the syllabus will be updated and a revised version will be posted on the Blackboard course site.

What, when, where, who.

  • Course Title & Number: Computer Crime Law – COMPSCI  391L 
  • Credits: 3
  • Semester and year offered: Fall 2023
  • Location:
  • Time and days of week: Tuesdays and Thursdays – 1:00 P.M. – 2:15 P.M.
  • Instructor: Marvin Cable, Esq.
  • Email: 
  • Phone, Office, Office hours: To schedule time to meet with instructor outside of class please use:
    • To communicate with instructor in real time please use Zoom software.  Instructor’s Zoom contact link is:
    • Details of office hours, time, and place will be shared during class. 
  • Mailbox number: If a student needs to send instructor snail mail, please address to: Marvin Cable, P.O. Box 1630, Northampton, MA 01061

Communication policy.

Per the University Email Policy, students are expected to check their email regularly. Instructor will use student’s UMass email address as  point of contact in all online tools (notably, Blackboard) and as the primary means to contact students individually outside of class.

  • When sending the course staff email, please include “COMPSCI 391L” in the subject line to make sure staff answers them in a timely fashion.
  • Please check the syllabus and course web site before emailing the course staff.
  • Course staff typically respond to emails within about one business day, but I (Marvin) do not typically respond to communications after about 5 P.M. or on weekends. There may be other times during the course where response time may be longer, due the nature of Instructor being a working attorney. Course staff tend to get a high volume of email when a deadline is approaching. If students contact us at least two full business day before a deadline, you should get a reply before the exam or deadline. Otherwise we’ll do our best, but no guarantees. 

For more info. on University Email Policy, see:

Critical course information.

Enrollment Requirements: Open to Senior and Junior Computer Science majors only.

Prerequisites: (a.) COMPSCI 230 and ENGLWRIT 112 with a grade of ‘C’ or better; (b.) the completion of the ‘CW’ General Education requirement; or, (c.) a waiver granted by instructor.

Acknowledgments: I’m very grateful to Marc Liberatore and Brian Neil Levine for providing materials that assisted me in preparing this course.

Who is this course for? Undergraduates with a strong technical background (COMPSCI 230) and an interest in the law as it applies to technology. This course counts as a COMPSCI elective toward the major (B.S. or B.A.).

Course description: COMPSCI 391L is a study, analysis, and discussion of the legal issues related to crimes involving computers and networks, including topical actions by dissidents and governments. We will also study the technologies of forensic investigation, intelligence gathering, privacy enhancement, and censorship resistance.

Our main legal topics will include recent and important case law, statutes, and constitutional clauses concerning authorization, access, search and seizure, wiretaps, the right to privacy, and FISA. Our technology topics will include methods of investigation and resistance in the context of the Internet and Cellular networks. Students are assumed to have no background in legal concepts. All students will be required to complete substantial legal readings, complete significant written analysis of rulings, learn about technologies in detail, and participate in lively class discussion. Some of the laws and cases that we’ll be covering provide the courts’ answers to these questions:

  • Can you be compelled by police to turn over the key to encrypted documents?
  • Are you breaking the law if you connect to someone’s open wireless access point?
  • Does violating a web site’s Terms of Service constitute criminal fraud?
  • If you tell your employer you are leaving in two weeks, are you guilty of hacking if you then access your files at the company?
  • Since data can be deleted immediately via remote commands, aren’t police always justified in seizing equipment without a warrant to avoid the delay?
  • What is the legal justification for the surveillance activities of the US government?
  • Why do we have a right to “privacy” if the word never appears in the constitution?

These issues and the others we’ll discuss are fundamental to our profession and our society.

Some of the technical topics that we’ll cover include:

  • What information does one expose to third parties from everyday use of cellular phones and why?
  • What information can a third party (e.g., advertisers or the government) gather about persons from their use of the Internet and why?
  • How do technologies for protecting privacy, such as Tor, operate?
  • What technologies are available for investigating crimes perpetrated with the help the Internet, including child exploitation, human trafficking, and electronic theft, and how do they work?
  • What technologies are available to thwart government censorship and how do they work?

The specific objectives for the course are as follows:

  • To gain an understanding of and familiarity with computer crime case law and general legal reasoning.
  • To understand the implications that computer science advances have had on criminal law historically.
  • To reason about the implications of current and future computer science advances on hypothetical cases, based on past rulings.
  • To gain a familiarity and understanding of the technology that supports privacy and surveillance.
  • To gain experience in formal writing, and experience in making well-reasoned arguments both on paper and in class discussion.

Course textbook and other materials.

Required material: There is one required textbook for this class from which many readings will be assigned: Orin Kerr’s Computer Crime Law, 5th edition.There is one optional textbook: Learning Legal Reasoning: Briefing, Analysis and Theory by John Delaney (ISBN-10: 0960851445). Chapter one is available online for free on the author’s web site. We will cover the content from chapter two in class, though students may prefer to purchase and read the author’s version. Other readings will be made available electronically on the course web site  or on the course Blackboard site.

Time management and what to expect.

As a general guideline, the university suggests that students spend an additional two to three hours outside of class time per credit hour. This is a three (3) credit course, therefore students should plan to spend six (6) to nine (9) hours a week on this class outside of lecture. In a typical week, students will attend two lectures and complete the assigned reading, case briefs, and questions before each lecture. The bulk of students time will be spent reading and briefing cases, as will be explained in the first lecture.

Technology in the classroom.

At the start of the semester, laptops, tablets, mobile-devices and the like will be permitted in the classroom. If it becomes clear that they are being used for purposes not directly related to the class, they will be banned . It is unfair to distract other students with Facebook feeds, animated ads, and the like. Regardless, we recommend taking notes by hand, using paper or a tablets. Research suggests that students who take written notes in class significantly outperform students who use electronic devices to take notes.


Students are expected to attend all lectures and exams.

If a student will be absent (either from class, or from an exam) due to religious reasons, student must provide instructor with a written list of such dates within one week of enrollment in the course. If student will be absent for a University-related event, such as an athletic event, field trip, or performance, student must notify instructor as soon as possible. If student is absent for health reasons, notify instructor as soon as possible and provide written documentation. If student is absent for other extenuating non-academic reasons, such as a military obligation, family illness, jury duty, automobile collision, etc., notify instructor as soon as possible and provide written documentation. If student must miss an exam for an excusable reason, instructor will work with student to find an acceptable time to take a makeup. If student misses an exam without prior notice, instructor will require an explanation and clear written documentation in order to judge whether the absence is excusable. Exams must be made up within a week unless there are documented exceptional circumstances (such as a hospitalization or extended jury duty). Similarly, if a student misses a class without prior notice, instructor will require an explanation and written documentation in order to judge whether the absence is excusable.


Please see the Blackboard site for a class-by-class schedule. 

Final Exam: Date, time, and place of final exam will be communicated to students during the semester, as soon as Computer Science department provides instructor with details.


The relative value of the various course components is approximately as follows:

  • 50% assignments
  • 30% exams (midterms, and final)
  • 20% attendance and participation 

There are no opportunities for extra credit in this course. Late work will not be accepted.

If a student needs an extension for an assignment, student should contact Instructor within a reasonable amount of time — generally, at least, a full business day — before the assignment is due. If student is incapacitated for one or more days up to and including the due date, there must be written documentation explaining student’s inability to work on course material in order to consider granting a retroactive extension at instructor’s discretion. All graded materials for this course will be retained until the end of next semester. If students wish to review them, please contact instructor during office hours (or make an appointment).

Students are responsible for monitoring their grades. Grades will be available through Blackboard and students should check them regularly and review any provided feedback. If students encounter issues with grades, students will have one week past the first posting of a particular assignment’s grade to Blackboard to contact the course staff so that staff can investigate. We will not generally accept questions about an individual assignment’s grade beyond this one week, so students must be prompt. 

Incompletes: Incompletes will be granted only in exceptional cases, and only if students have completed at least half the course with a passing grade. Prior to that, withdrawal is the recommended course of action.

The numerical cutoff for final course letter grade assignment will be made after all grading is completed. The grading scale for the course shall be as follows: A = 93 and above; A- = 90-92; B+ = 87–89; B = 83–86; B- = 80–82; C+ = 77–79; C = 72–76; C- = 70–71; D = 66–69; and, F = 0—65.

Written assignments: Case briefs, technical homeworks, quizzes, and surveys.

Some of the assignments will be based on cases, for which students will write briefs, and other assignments will be based on technical material, for which students will answer questions.

For every case or technical article covered, students will be expected to write a brief. COMPSCI 391L uses a form of flipped teaching: assignments are due before the class meeting in which they are first discussed. As described in class and in the text by Delaney, briefs are a short summary and description of a legal decision, following a particular format. Students briefs will be graded according to a rubric. We will weight all briefs equally. Expect to brief about four cases per week.

Assignments may also include responses to “notes” that appear at the end of each section of Kerr, newspaper articles, technical papers, and legal documents outside of Kerr. Note responses are not as tightly constrained in format as briefs, though we expect most note assignments can be written in one page or less. Like briefs, grading of note responses should be done according to a rubric. Expect to write one or two note responses per week. Even if students are not assigned a note response, students should read the notes to themselves carefully. Some are not hypotheticals but instead important commentary and information from Kerr. And, all notes are fair game for exam questions. Similarly, students may be asked for a response to a relevant blog post, and grade it as a note response.

We will use Blackboard exclusively to accept assignments, which must be in the form of a PDF (no word, text, or other formats), with student’s’ name clearly visible. Assignments are due at 1:00pm on the due date. We will not accept assignments after this time, and we will assign a score of zero for work that is not submitted by this time (or at all).

There are no announced quizzes. But, expect several short quizzes during the semester. Grades and points from the quicks will incorporated students’ assignment grade, each weighted about as much as one assignment.

Each assignment and quiz will be worth a certain number of points – that is, they are not equally weighted. Students grade will be the sum of all points earned over all points assigned.

See the grading rubrics to see how points and grades will be apportioned.  

Every so often, surveys will be assigned.  They are a way for Instructor to see how the class is doing.   


There will be two midterm exams and a final exam. Each will be weighted equally. The midterms will be given in class and announced in advance. The exams are, by nature of the course material, cumulative, though they will focus mainly on the most recent material. Exams will cover the textbook (Kerr) as well as all materials/articles/PDFs on the required reading list. Students may bring their own hand-typed/written notes and graded briefs to the exam. No other material is permitted. Students may not include wholesale excerpts from the text in these briefs and notes. Instructor will audit whatever material students bring to the exam, which should take less than five minutes per student. (Hint: Take notes when we review the answers to homework each class. Instructor will not provide answer keys during the semester.)

Students’ overall exam grade must be above the passing threshold in order to pass the class.

Class participation.

Students will assigned this portion of grade on the basis of presence and participation in class. As stated in this syllabus, students are expected to attend all classes. Further, students are expected to participate in class discussion — posing and answering questions as appropriate. Students will be assigned grades of only full, half, or no credit for class participation. Students may ask at any time what the current estimate of their class participation grade may be. 

Anxiety and disdain for participating in class is real, and very scary to some students. Please talk to the instructor if there are any problems with anxiety or the like. We are not in the business of scaring people. Students thrive in comfortable and supportive environments

University and course policies.

Accommodation statement: The University of Massachusetts – Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students. If a student has a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS), student may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations to help student succeed in this course. If a student has a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please contact instructor within the first two weeks of the semester so that instructor may make appropriate arrangements.

General academic honesty statement: Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.  Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University.  Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty.  Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty.  Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct.  Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible.  Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair.  Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent. 

In addition, students should read the UMass Academic Honesty Policy – ignorance of the policy is no excuse.

Course-specific academic honesty information: Cheating is usually the result of other problems in school. If a student is unable to keep up with the work for any reason, please contact see the course staff to attempt to work something out. Staff wants to see students succeed and will do everything they can to help each student.

Students may discuss material with others, but work must be student’s own. When in doubt, contact the instructor about whether a potential action would be considered plagiarism. When discussing problems or assignments with others, students may not show any of their work to others. When students ask other peers for help, students must not take notes other than to jot down publicly available references. Use only verbal communication.

If students discuss material with anyone besides the instructor, students should acknowledge collaborators in each write-up. If a students obtains a key insight with help, e.g., through library, work, or a friend, student must acknowledge their source, they must briefly state the insight, and write up the work on their own. In a fair fraction of write-ups, students should provide citations, though students need not cite the course texts.

Students should never misrepresent someone else’s work as their own. It must be absolutely clear what material is student’s original work. Students MUST cite all their sources properly. Students must remove any possibility of someone else’s work from being misconstrued as theirs. Also note that the facilitation of plagiarism, e.g., giving work to someone else, is academic dishonesty as well.

Student must not provide their solutions to others, either directly or via some sort of public posting. Doing so is a violation of the University Honesty Policy’s prohibition against facilitating academic dishonesty.

Plagiarism and other anti-intellectual behavior will be dealt with severely. If a student engages in academic dishonesty, student will almost certainly receive an ‘F’ for the course. Further, if there are formal disciplinary proceedings, instructor will lobby for the maximum possible penalty. Investigating plagiarism is a miserable experience for both instructor and student — students should help by avoiding any questionable behavior.

Other academic regulations: The Office of the Registrar publishes Academic Regulations yearly. Students should be familiar with them. Particularly relevant are the policies on attendance, absences due to religious observance, and examinations.


Offensive topics and material: This class will often include discussion of real-life court cases and criminal scenarios. Students may find some topics of discussion distasteful, offensive, disturbing, and shocking, which is atypical for Computer Science. For example, we will openly discuss true and hypothetical scenarios and cases of child sexual exploitation, adult pornography, homicide, and other violent crimes. Students are welcome to sit out for any discussion if they feel uncomfortable, no questions asked, no need to ask ahead of time. Instructor will try to keep all discussions at a high level and avoid lurid details — and, students should do the same. It is inevitable, however, that there will be some frankness in discussion as well as in candid court decisions students will read. 

A word about copyrights: Some of the material (lecture notes, lectures, assignments, and so on) in this course is original work created by the instructor (and prior instructors); exceptions are clearly noted. While students are welcome to use the material for their own personal and educational use, students may not redistribute them to others outside the class. In particular, selling or otherwise redistributing notes, and making or selling audio, video, or still recordings of course material, is not allowed without express written permission from instructor. 

Legal statements.

While the instructor of this course is an attorney, no statements made by the instructor as a result of being engaged to teach this course should be construed as legal advice nor relied upon for any legal matter. Furthermore, no statement made by instructor as a result of teaching this course should be construed as having created of an attorney-client relationship. In order to comply with Massachusetts’s wiretapping statute, all students should be aware and understand that all communications for this class may be recorded. By participating in this course, a student consents to any recordings made as a result of student’s activity in the course. 

Wellness and Success.

You are not alone at UMass – many people care about your well-being and many resources are available to help you thrive and succeed. Coursework is challenging and classes are not the only demand in your life.

You have resilience and are already using effective strategies to help you achieve your educational goals. Take stock of these and consider what new steps or resources could be helpful. Getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, and connecting with others are all antidotes to stress. If you are struggling academically, reach out to your instructors and advisors prior to deadlines and before the demands of exams, papers, and projects reach their peak.

Students experiencing challenges including stress, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, loneliness, and trauma, or who feel down or alienated, can find it helpful to connect with one or more of the many supportive resources on campus that stand ready to assist you. You matter at UMass.

Title IX.

It is important that everyone on our campus is familiar with reporting procedures for sexual harassment and violence at UMass. Please visit the Title IX webpage at and the Sexual & Relationship Violence Resource Guide at to find more information about resources and reporting options. If you want to file a complaint, make a report, or find out about resources, you can contact a Title IX coordinator at or (413) 545-3464.

Name and Pronouns.

Everyone has the right to be addressed by the name and pronouns that they use for themselves. Students can indicate their preferred/chosen first name and pronouns on SPIRE, which appear on class rosters. Please let instructor know what name and pronouns instructor should use, especially if they are not on the roster. A student’s chosen name and pronouns are to be respected at all times in the classroom.  

Stay tuned!