The world we live in is becoming increasingly dominated by digital technology, and with this has come the emergence of cybercrime. A cybercrime is any kind of crime which targets technology, or uses technology to further criminal ends. But how do you police an internet which crosses international borders and oceans, in which the perpetrator and the victim can be separated by millions of miles?
1) Piracy/Copyright Infringement.
Piracy of music, films and TV shows wasn’t invented by the internet, but it was one of the first types of cybercrime to emerge. File sharing programs and websites make it easy for people to download and watch or listen to copyrighted material that they didn’t pay for. Copyright infringement is illegal in the UK, but identifying offenders and justifying the cost prosecution of them is a serious obstacle to enforcement.
Currently action must be sought by the copyright holders, once they know their copyright is being infringed. Most legal activity surrounds blocking those websites which distribute pirated material. The 2010 Digital Economy Act requires ISPs to send letters to customers who download pirated material however prosecutions have not been forthcoming.
2) Child Pornography
Child pornography is another crime which has flourished on the internet. With the distribution of images made so much easier all around the globe, many countries struggle to understand what they should be prosecuting. Under UK law it is illegal to make, take, possess, distribute or show indecent images of those under the age of 18. All of the above are punishable by 10 years imprisonment, fines and registration on the sex offenders register.
3) Child Grooming
Child grooming occurs when an adult makes friends with an individual under the age of 18 (often on chat rooms or children’s game sites), usually with the aim of meeting and engaging in sexual activity. The Sexual Offences Act of 2003 added to the existing raft of child protection laws to ensure that internet grooming is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, in line with other child protection laws.
4) Online Fraud and Identity Theft
With so much of our lives on line (banking, socialising, working) it is easier than ever for people to become the victim of identity theft online. Phishing schemes usually target bank and credit card user by getting them to log in to a fake webpage. Once they have your details, fraudsters can run up bills online, use your identity to obtain medical services or to cover illegal activities. Currently in the UK the Data Protection Act of 1998 is used to protect users from online fraud, but commentators believe that additional legislation will soon be required, as nearly 50% of all frauds recorded are identity theft.
5) Cyber Terrorism.
Cyber terrorism is the act of an individual or group using internet based attacks to disrupt the operations of a company or government body. As we rely more in our day to day lives on computer networks, so the risk of disruption if a service is interrupted grows. Imagine the chaos if a town’s traffic control system was disrupted, or the air traffic control at an airport. Hacking and cyber-attacks are illegal under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act, punishable by imprisonment and fines. UK-based hackers may be extradited to face the consequences of their actions overseas.
The digital age is in a constant state of development but so is the law, and many types of cybercrime are already punishable by existing laws. It is easy to imagine that distanced as they are from the physical scene of the crime (be it a hacker breaking into a government server a hundred miles away, or an individual downloading child pornography from a thousand miles), that they are insulated from the law. But it simply isn’t true. Ranging from fines to custodial sentences, cybercrimes are punishable under UK law, and it is a law which is changing daily to adjust to the differences of crimes in the digital world.
Written by Alex Johnson, a blogger on internet security issues.