Florida enacts tougher penalties for tampering with state’s critical infrastructure

by | May 20, 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that introduces new legal protections and imposing severe penalties for tampering, trespassing, unauthorized access, and cyberattacks on Florida’s critical infrastructure, which includes electric power facilities, water treatment plants, and communication lines.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation on Friday introducing new legal protections for Florida’s critical infrastructure. The measure imposes penalties for tampering, trespassing, unauthorized access, and cyberattacks on vital facilities and systems statewide.

The bill, House Bill 275, creates several new criminal offenses, including the knowing and intentional improper tampering with critical infrastructure resulting in $200 or more in damages, or causing an interruption or impairment that costs $200 or more in labor and supplies to restore. The offense is also now classified as a second-degree felony.

The law additionally criminalizes unauthorized entry onto critical infrastructure property with a third-degree felony for trespassing where notice against entry is given. It includes penalties for unauthorized access to computer systems of critical infrastructure entities and for physically tampering with or inserting contaminants into these systems, both of which can result in third-degree or second-degree felony charges depending on the nature of the offense.

“Due to the vast number of critical infrastructure facilities, the difficulty in securing and monitoring such facilities, and the widespread effects that damage to such facilities can cause, critical infrastructure facilities have become a frequent target of both physical and cyber attacks in recent years,” a House Legislative analysis states.

Critical infrastructure, as defined by the law, includes electric power facilities, chemical manufacturing and storage sites, natural gas facilities, communications towers, water treatment plants, seaports, airports, railroads, military bases, and dams. The bill specifically addresses linear assets such as electric distribution and transmission lines, gas pipelines, and communication lines, which are often the target of vandalism and cyberattacks.

The legislation responds to an increasing number of incidents targeting critical infrastructure in recent years. According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), these assets are essential to national security, economic stability, and public health. Physical and cyber attacks on such facilities can have widespread and debilitating effects, as highlighted by recent intrusions at Duke Energy substations in central Florida and a shooting incident at an electrical substation in North Carolina, which caused power outages and impacted thousands of residents.

Florida law previously lacked specific provisions addressing these types of offenses, relying instead on general criminal mischief and trespassing statutes. HB 275 now fills this gap by providing a clear legal framework for prosecuting those who target critical infrastructure. It also establishes civil liability for individuals convicted of improperly tampering with critical infrastructure, making them liable for three times the amount of actual damages or any claims paid by the infrastructure owner or operator for property damage, personal injury, or wrongful death resulting from their actions.


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