Different Kinds of Internet Crime

This week I spoke at a conference in Geneva about the ‘Rule of Law’ in the borderless Internet. ‘Internet crime’ is a very broad term and can include everything from ‘phishing’ schemes – when perpetrators try to extract bank details – to online bullying and illegal downloading of music. All of these things can be related to crimes in the ‘real world’ such as theft, copyright fraud and abuse; but clearly the way of dealing with them has to be very different, at least in technical terms.

The debate I started in Geneva was about the extent to which the existing enforceable law can be applied to the online world, and who should decide on that law? Do we need a whole new way of tackling crime on the internet? What kind of mechanisms can we or should we put in place?

The biggest difference is that an online scam can defraud thousands of vulnerable people into giving information and can have multiple ‘hits’ within seconds. Knowing how to protect yourself is important so we need to do much more in terms of education and promoting Get Safe Online as the online place where people can find out how to recognise a scam and avoid a virus.

Abuse and hate crime are as nasty as they are in the real world but online abuse needs cooperation with the service providers and child protection charities.

And finally with copyright theft, the online world transforms how people share books, music and film. Some business frameworks that have been built, like iTunes and eBooks, respond to the consumer demand for online, legal content. However, a point recently raised in response to the Hargreaves Review of UK Copyright Law (written by Penarth resident Professor Ian Hargreaves) suggests that the online world has dramatically changed how we need to address copyright fraud. A letter signed by both Google and the British Library agree that this needs to be updated and argues that ‘the inventor of a British iPod would attract legal threats instead of investment’.

It’s also important that we cooperate internationally as I emphasise in my work setting up the Internet Governance Forum. One particular high-profile case is that of Gary McKinnon – a young man diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome who the US is trying to extradite for hacking into military computers. I have looked at the UK-US extradition arrangements as a part of the Home Affairs Select Committee and we published our report earlier this month. Crime works very differently online and conferences like the one in Geneva are vital for working out how to uphold the law both in the real world and online.

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