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Federal Government passes rules allowing asset freezes for computer hacking suspects

In April 2015, the president created new rules allowing the federal government to freeze the assets of those suspected to be involved in high-level computer hacking.  (Executive Order; RT.Com article).

On December 31, 2015, the Treasury Department published abbreviated rules for imposing these sanctions, indicating that a comprehensive set of rules will be published at a later date.  (Federal Register).

The new regulations not only govern the blocking of transfers of funds by those suspected of computer hacking, but they also govern how those suspects can pay their lawyers.  (Federal Register at § 578.506, 507).  And lawyers who accept payment to represent suspects whose funds have been blocked must provide an annual report to the Department of the Treasury outlining “The individual or entity from whom the funds originated and the amount of funds received; and . . . (A) The names of any individuals or entities providing related services to the U.S. person receiving payment in connection with authorized legal services, such as private investigators or expert witnesses; (B) A general description of the services provided; and (C) The amount of funds paid in connection with such services.”  (§ 578.507(b)).

The executive order and these rules indicate the increasingly drastic measures the federal government is taking to prevent computer hacking, cyberattacks, theft of trade secrets, and other computer crimes.

Asset seizures are allowed under the executive order whenever a person is suspected of any direct or indirect involvement in, responsibility for, or complicity in a cyberattack originating from outside the United States that has a significant impact on computer systems within the United States or involves the theft of trade secrets.

Although the executive order purports to limit the application of these rules to computer hacking that is “reasonably likely to result in, or have materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States,” this language is vague enough to apply to virtually anyone suspected of any involvement in computer hacking that is believed to have an international component.

With this increased federal government focus on computer hacking and theft of trade secrets, it is important to contact a Raleigh white-collar defense lawyer immediately if you believe you are being investigated.

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