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How Crime Went Online, and the Cops Followed

by Nate Anderson

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-393-06298-4
Publisher: Norton

A nuanced study of crime on the Internet and how government and law enforcement agencies have been tackling it.

Ars Technica senior editor Anderson seems somewhat sympathetic to the notion of the Internet’s borderless, innovative exceptionalism. But unlike advocates of unfettered creative chaos and online liberty, the author argues that since the Internet went global in the 1990s, it has been followed by a rise in online criminal activities harmful to life, limb and property in the “real” world. These problems include offshore havens, child pornography, cyberpeeping and extortion, spambotting and identity theft, all of which have made policing it not only necessary, but inevitable. Rather than create new entities to handle these crimes, governments have relied on boots already on the ground—local police forces, the Federal Trade Comission, the FBI, even Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has pursued overseas violators of American copyright protections with unusual—sometimes indiscriminate—aggressiveness. Anderson isn’t altogether impressed with the results. While scoring some impressive arrests and convictions of the creators and consumers of child pornography and of a creepy peeper named Luis Mijangos, law enforcement and the courts have had more difficulty going after spammers, pirates and other online crooks. In some cases, they have breeched privacy as brazenly as Mijangos, using remote access tools to spy on “owners” of stolen laptops, for example, without troubling themselves with obtaining court-issued warrants. Spammers and other fraudsters have proven elusive in the courts; on the other hand, penalties handed down by juries to copyright violators, like single mom and Kazaa user Jammie Thomas, have been thrown out by judges for being obscenely excessive. Unfortunately, there are few simple solutions on the horizon. “[W]e need the Internet police,” Anderson writes, “but we need to keep an eye on them—and on their tools.”

A thought-provoking primer on the state of cybercrime.