All Hands on Deck for Cybercrime Regulation

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Scholar analyzes how traditional police regulation must change in the face of cybercrime.

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“Cybercrime is here to stay.”

That is the assessment of Professor David S. Wall of England’s University of Leeds School of Law.

The prevalence of cybercrime is increasing every year, and experts predict it will continue to rise. Detecting such crime is a chief challenge facing government. Unlike many traditional criminals—think robbers holding up a bank—who commit crimes in person, cybercriminals use malware—software designed to access a computer without the knowledge of the computer’s owner—to commit crimes digitally and remotely. The very nature of malware makes it very difficult for authorities to detect a cybercrime as it occurs, and it allows a far greater volume of criminal activity than offline crime does.

In a recent paper, Wall concludes that the expansion of cybercrime brings with it a need for police officials to work more cooperatively with businesses than they do with respect to other crimes.

Wall argues that effectively addressing cybercrime requires cooperation between government agencies and the computer security, financial, and telecommunications industries, as well as with teachers, parents, and law enforcement officials, to “understand, respond, and manage” cybercrime effectively.

This collaboration is a “co-productive or co-creative model,” explains Wall, in that different types of cybercrime are “co-owned by each of the stakeholder groups.”

Wall notes that the “traditional police organizational cultures,” which promote isolation and insularity from the public, cannot work in the new cybercrime era. In the United Kingdom, for example, the global nature of many cybercrimes is causing a shift in the policing policy. Wall explains that, instead of U.K. police forces handling cybercrime exclusively through local police stations, U.K. police forces are now looking to create a national approach.

Wall contends that the different technology and methods criminals use to commit cybercrimes can reveal differences in which resources and agencies need to prevent or detect these crimes. More specifically, differentiating between the “intelligence and evidential challenges” can “help identify when police do or do not get involved, or pass a particular type of case on to another agency.”

For example, police often do not get involved when a person steals one dollar from 50 million people over the Internet. Since victims of such crimes often do not care enough to report one dollar missing, it is difficult for the police to gather the intelligence needed to identify the offender and extent of the crime. Compounding this problem is the fact that victims are generally spread across many jurisdictions.

Police often consider these types of cybercrimes “too small to pursue,” since any individual who comes forward reports such a small amount, but, in fact, the cybercriminal has stolen millions of dollars.

Thus, a collaborative model, Wall explains, promotes more people reporting victimization, gathering more intelligence about reported cybercrimes, and efficiently managing and preventing cybercrimes.

In the same way technology makes committing crimes easier, it also makes collaboration between the police and different groups easier, Wall suggests. Social media can be used to help police engage with other agencies and communicate with the public. Wall notes that, in some cases, social media can “help capture essential specialist community knowledge,” particularly when criminals post incriminating information on social media platforms but limit which audiences can see that incriminating content.

Wall also argues it is vital for various groups to collaborate in managing cybercrime because certain types of cybercrime may be more appropriately handled without the involvement of the police. Wall mentions a situation in which two high-school boys fought over a girl on social media. One boy wrote to the other—quoting Liam Neeson in the movie Taken—that he would “hunt him down and kill him.” The police got involved and arrested the boy because of his “threatening” words, but, as soon as the police began investigating, the case quickly fell apart.

Wall’s findings suggest that police forces are increasingly responding to these types of cyberbullying and social media behavioral issues. Wall contends that, in cases like teenagers misusing social media, police agencies are not the appropriate group to address the issue. Even when the police decide not to bring charges, the police still record these incidents as cybercrimes. Consequently, the teenagers involved must disclose the incidents in future background checks, despite never being charged.

Although all types of cybercrime cause harm, community efforts can often better manage and respond to cases of cyberbullying and social media misuse by addressing the bad behavior without involving the criminal justice system.

Thus, Wall urges a more collaborative policing method, which involves other agencies and groups, and even creating new roles like a “police school liaison officer.”