Bill would toughen penalties for theft of personal electronic devices

Smartphones, tablets and computers are common electronic devices in the digital age, but what many people forget is that they can carry highly sensitive information.

“The computers and electronic devices are digital assets, and these digital assets are like your name, your birthday, your social security number, PIN numbers to your financial account,” said cybersecurity expert Chris Duque.

For criminals, these portable devices are an easy steal. If that information gets into the wrong hands, you could be in trouble.

But can anything be done to reduce these types of crimes? One lawmaker says he wants to get the conversation started.

Rep. Aaron Johanson, D-Moanalua, Red Hill, Foster Village, Aiea, Fort Shafter, Moanalua Gardens, Aliamanu, Lower Pearlridge, introduced HB781 that would make it a Class C felony for the theft of personal electronic devices that may be used to store or retrieve personal information.

A Class C felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Under the current law, anyone who steals property valued at less than $300 faces a misdemeanor.

“As technology improves and as we become more digital, the law sometimes has trouble keeping pace with technology, and I think that’s the real spirit of this law,” said Johanson said.

If someone steals your phone or computer, it can lead to identity theft and other electronic crimes. That’s why experts say it’s important to do your part and protect your devices.

“It’s basically your digital wallet. You need to protect it. If it’s out of your sight, you should have the password protected and some kind of encryption on it so that when a bad guy gets it, you’re not easy low-hanging fruit, an easy target,” said Duque.

“There’s always that element of personal responsibility, but some laws can serve as a deterrent and hopefully that’s one of the things that may accrue if this bill ends up getting passed. But you’re right. Everybody’s got to be careful with making sure they have good, strong passwords, making sure they’re not just leaving their computer, laptop around,” said Johanson.

A public hearing on the bill was held Wednesday afternoon at the State Capitol.

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