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Law Enforcement and Technology

Introduction

Technology is moving at a pace that is almost breathtaking to keep up with. Although there are countless benefits to utilizing emerging technologies, there are threats for law enforcement as well. With new technology come new opportunities for criminals to find ways to exploit that technology for criminal endeavors. It is imperative that law enforcement professionals be every vigilant to stay abreast of new forms of crime associated with new technologies.

Friend and Enemy

Although technology has brought new and formidable threats to law enforcement, the benefits of using technology as a tool for law enforcement far outweigh the new threats posed by cybercrime. Too much emphasis is placed on the negative aspects of technology as it applies to law enforcement. Daily reports are made by local and national new agencies about the numerous attempts at identity theft, financial fraud, and child pornography, but few people realize the leaps and bounds investigators are making by using the same technology as a tool for criminal investigations, as an outreach medium for public relations, and as a tool to increase the quality and quantity of the individual officer’s work. It is clear that threats of cybercrime are growing on a daily basis, but the use of technology by law enforcement for a positive impact on society is growing exponentially.

The Darkside

To say that cybercrime is not a major issue for law enforcement or to diminish the rate at which it is increasing would be a disservice to the general public. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has made it the number three priority behind only terrorism and counterintelligence (DeFranco, 2011). The main areas where cybercrime is the most damaging is with identity fraud, financial crimes, and cybercrime against children. Between the years of 2007 and 20008, identity fraud increased by 21 percent and accounted for 50 billion dollars of loss (Blair, 2011). Although this is a crime of theft, whether it is one of materials or information, the ramifications are so personal to the victims. Victims consistently report feelings of being violated and not feeling safe for years after the crime has occurred. The time frame of these crimes can reach into the years and investigating and prosecuting individuals for these crimes is extremely difficult for law enforcement investigators. Many times the case leads to the suspects being foreign nationals thousands of miles away in countries have no extradition or willingness to work with American authorities. The next area greatly affected by cybercrime is that of financial crime including credit card fraud, lottery scams, and fake purchase fraud. Often times the financial cybercrime is directly linked to identity fraud and it shares the same difficulties with prosecution. Criminals prey on victims’ advanced ages and greed to have more money to convince them to divulge sensitive information such as credit card numbers, dates of births, and social security numbers. It can also be as simple as a stolen credit card number making illegal purchases and having them shipped overseas where tracking them becomes next to impossible. The most disturbing area of cybercrime is that of crimes against children. Cyberspace is a teeming playground for pedophiles and child traffickers. The Internet has increasingly facilitated the sexual use and abuse of children, even though more and more federal laws have been established with stronger and stronger punishments against these crimes (Kunze, 2010). With parents not being engaged enough with their child’s fascination with social media, a pathway is paved to make child abduction and exploitation a daily occurrence (DeFranco, 2011). Children have become too trusting of “kids” on social media sites, not realizing that in many cases these so called “friends” are adult sexual predators who gain trust, talk into meeting, and then abuse their victims.

The Power of Good

With the overwhelming dark side of technology, there is a light side that can be used as powerful tools by law enforcement. The latest use of technology by law enforcement is that of using social media outlets as a way to boost public relations with citizens and also as an investigative tool. Richmond, VA Police Department has been an industry leader in social media using in law enforcement under the guidance of Chief Brian Norwood. They were one of the first agencies to embrace the technology of social media to build better relationships in the community, by having a Facebook account that posted area topics of law enforcement concern and updates on the day to day operations of the agency (Norwood & Waugh, 2012). They were innovative in forming a whole unit to manage and upkeep the agency’s several social media outlets and to make sure that their side of sensational news stories reached the citizens they served (Norwood & Waugh, 2012). Other agencies have combated criminals by using the internet and social media to gather intelligence on criminal activity and individuals involved in gangs and criminal enterprises. By utilizing internet want ads, such as Craigslist, investigators are able to set up reverse stings and recover stolen property and make solid cases against thieves. Another benefit of technology is the productivity and convenience it affords the individual officer. With new technology forcing prices down in all fields of technology, even smaller agencies can afford to purchase and install mobile data systems in their vehicles. This allows the officer to have important, and sometimes lifesaving, information at the tips of their fingers. They can also complete reports in the field and issued electronic citations. These advents lower the fatigue on the officer and ensure ease of tracking performance for administration.

Playing Catch-up

Whether you are looking at the positive impacts of cybercrime or the negative attributes it breeds, law enforcement as a whole is behind the curve of society when it comes to using technology. Like so many areas, law enforcement in general has taken a reactionary stand on cybercrime instead of a proactive one. Many benefits have been recorded when agencies adopt a proactive operational stance in their communities and cyberspace is no different. The area of most importance is that of training officers and investigators on emerging technologies and showing them how they can be used to not only fight crime, but to improve relations with the community. Historically officers have been less than enthusiastic with change, but once established new ideas find roots and officers embrace the areas that can help them in their endeavors. Unfortunately, young people just out of high school have a higher understanding of technology than most officers and some of these people will go down the wrong path and use this technology to break the law. It is imperative that we have the training to combat them and meet them on common ground to have a chance and slowing them down and solving the new crimes facing us. The other area where all agencies can improve is that of making sure that equipment is updated regularly and up-to-date to battle cybercrime. In slowing economies where every purchase counts, the necessity of technology cannot be overlooked. Newer and more innovative in-car systems will be necessary to keep up with the modern cybercriminal and to ensure officer safety in the field. Also investigative equipment and training such as forensic computer examination will become increasingly valuable to secure convictions in confusing cybercrime cases.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is easy to see that the benefit of using technology to battle crime outweighs the negative aspects of technology. The sooner law enforcement administrators and executives embrace the need to use technology to improve relations with the community, investigate and convict cybercrime, and increase the productivity of their officers, the easier it will be to take up the slack of the learning curve against the criminals who are immersed in this technology on a daily basis. Technology is only going to advance to meet the needs of society, we as law enforcement can choose to use this technology as a weapon against crime, or we can suffer the consequences of being out equipped, out trained, and out performed by the emerging cybercriminals. The key for law enforcement is to embrace the innovations afforded us through technology and use them as we do any other tool for the benefit of society instead of allowing it to run rampant to harm society and its innocents. The future can be ours if we allow it.

References

Blair, C. (2011, June). Solutions for victims of identity theft: a guide for judge advocates to assist service members in deterring, detecting, and defending against this growing epidemic. Army Lawyer, 24+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com

DeFranco, J. F. (2011). Teaching Internet security, safety in our classrooms. Techniques, 86(5), 52+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com

Kunze, E. I. (2010, July). Sex trafficking via the Internet: how international agreements address the problem and fail to go far enough. The Journal of High Technology Law, 10(2), 241+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com

Norwood, B. T., & Waugh, D. (2012, June). Telling a Story through Social Media. (K. A. Sullivan, Ed.) The Police Chief, 79(6), pp. 30-34.

Law | Crime | Technology


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