The Montana House of Representatives is considering legislation that would update definitions in state law to make it easier to police and prosecute online crimes.

Rep. Fiona Nave, R-Columbus, is sponsoring House Bill 161 on behalf of the Department of Justice.

Definitions of computer use date in current law back to 1981 and other definitions involved with a cybercrime haven’t been touched by Legislature since 2009.

“Cybercrime is a serious threat that’s on the rise, and as we share more and more business and personal information online, criminals find new ways to steal and use that data for illegal purposes and financial gain,” Fiona said at a hearing in the House Judiciary on Jan. 10.

Nave said experts claim cybercrime generates about $6 trillion in annual revenue, which would make it the third largest economy in the world behind only the United States and China. She said the number is expected to increase by 15% annually for the next five years until the total annual revenue reaches $10 trillion.

Anne Dormady, Crime Information Bureau chief at the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation at the DOJ, said the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is the FBI’s online center where victims can report crimes, reported that in 2021, more than 680 Montana victims reported internet crimes totaling losses of $10 million.

Supporters of the HB 161 say as technology booms, definitions from 2009 make it difficult for law enforcement, and attorneys to defend Montana citizens from cybercrimes. In current Montana law, online crimes are charged under regular theft laws or as identity theft cases.

“We have to update the law. We have to keep pace with technology,” Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson said.

The bill would raise the punishments for crimes involving less than $1,500 to a maximum fine of $1,500 or six months in county jail. The penalty for crimes involving more than $1,500 would carry punishments of up to 10 years in state prison or two and half times the amount of damage done.

“Since I have been standing up here, each of your data has been sold over 152 times at an average of anywhere from 25 cents to $10,” said Steve Cape, of the Montana Coalition for Safety and Justice. “I could pay $1,500 all day when I’m making $10,000.”

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Caven Wade is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation. He can be reached at caven.wade@umontana.edu.