To Catch an E-Thief — Under Federal Property Law

The fundamental shift for busi­nesses in the past 15 years from paper documents to computer data has forced the courts to decide whether intan­gible electronic data should enjoy the same legal protections as physical property.

Because of this shift, it is important to review the judicial response to the electronic-data issue in the context of a feder­al criminal statute, the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA), and common law conversion.

The NSPA makes it a felony for one who “transports, transmits, or transfers in interstate or foreign commerce any goods, wares, mer­chandise … of the value of $5,000 or more, knowing the same to have been stolen, converted or taken by fraud.” Conversion is the state civil cause of action for the theft of property.