Anonymity?

This is a purely hypothetical piece of writing. I am questioning the viewpoints of other people and do not necessarily agree with what is written, nor am I promoting hate crime via the internet.

We must question if we should allow individuals to remain anonymous on the internet, even if their views are controversial. Frequently people have written offensive comments on the internet, using a false name to keep themselves anonymous. In some of these cases, the individual has been tracked down and punished by legal bodies in real life. However, the internet is a place separate from real life, so why can’t individuals say what they want to?

For example, a person has a particular unpopular belief and sharing said belief would not be socially acceptable. Doesn’t that person have the right to share  and discuss their view somewhere without consequence?  If someone writes a controversial view online under a pseudonym, should we punish them in real life, stating their real name in a national newspaper?

We must decide whether the internet should be seen as  a ‘safe space’ to share controversial views or whether these views should be monitored and treated as a crime like they would be in ‘real life’. If a person wants to share their unpopular view online using a pseudonym, should we see this as a crime or an extension of ‘freedom of speech’?

The government is watching vs. the hackers are watching.

Plenty of government websites use ‘cookies’ to track our computer usage, this is considered a form of legal surveillance. Yet, surveillance is conducted by a hacker, it’s considered illegal. An argument would be that the government has our best interests at heart, that they wouldn’t do anything harmful to our computer – but hackers do not necessarily harm our computers either. Plenty of hackers just look at and track the websites you’ve been on, in the same way that the government uses cookies to do the same thing.

Would civilians rather be watched by the government or by a hacker? Who decides what is acceptable? Why is one organisation’s surveillance legal and another’s illegal?

Who should tackle cybercrime?

Here’s a situation: a man in the United States sends continuous bullying messages to a man in the United Kingdom via Twitter. The victim wants to take steps to stop this…who should deal with it?

Should it be the US police, seeing as the offender is in America? Or should it be the UK police, as the victim lives there? Some could say it should be dealt with by Twitter regulators – however, they have no legal jurisdiction. If the messages were harmful enough to be considered a crime and thus someone should be punished, this takes us back to the problem of which legal body deals with it?

Should we even punish cybercrime? Some could say people deserve anonymity on the internet. It’s virtual after all; it’s not real life.

The issue of crime is complicated when an offence has taken place in no physical, geographical space. In this situation we also need to consider whether the approach taken is offender based or victim based – in this situation, should the US police punish the offender, or should the UK police comfort and compensate the victim?

When new types of crime, such as cybercrime is developed, it makes us question the fundamentals of our criminal justice system; is the priority with the offender or the victim?

Are we teaching the next generation of hackers?

The internet is important. This generation has to at least have a basic understanding of it to survive in this world. ‘Good understanding of Microsoft Word/PowerPoint/Excel’ has moved from a ‘desirable’ skill in job applications to an ‘essential’ skill.

Libraries and teaching establishments around the UK are offering computing skills courses to adults for free. That’s how important it is to know how to use a computer. More important than driving, or going to university.

Whilst adults may struggle with the concept of computers and the internet, it is integrated into today’s children’s everyday lives.  We teach our children how to use a computer. We use it to enhance their learning in other subjects – online literacy and numeracy games are assisted by a cartoon character appearing on the screen telling them ‘Good job!’. They are so used to it, it’s second nature.

Children are being taught ICT skills in school, every week they are encouraged to make colourful PowerPoints, type their homework up on a computer and print it to share with the class. However, they are also being taught how to program. Computer programming, if executed at a high enough level can control machines; that includes other people’s computers.

However, there is also the question of should we be encouraging and teaching children how to computer program? Could this interest and these skills lead to something unlawful? Are we teaching the next generation of hackers? With the ‘sexy’ way fictional hackers are portrayed (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and more recently Mr. Robot) could this tempt children to use their school-taught skill for something more sinister?

Do civilians fear cyber crime?

In our week 3 lecture it was noted how high the probability of being victim to cybercrime is. In 2015 it was reported that 10 percent of the population claimed to be victim of a cyber-attack (Palmer, 2015). This led to my own personal reflection – why doesn’t this deter us from using the Internet? Of course there are protective ‘apps’ and softwares but this doesn’t eliminate the risk completely, nor does it lower the amount of people being victims.

Functions that law-abiding citizens consider incredible perks of the Internet can also be used by criminals and can in fact make us victims of crime or can make committing crime easier for others. For example, being able to chat to our friends on Facebook is so easy, regardless of where they live…but this function can also be used by paedophiles to groom children or for terrorists to recruit followers. The accessibility of online banking means we can check our balance and send money within seconds…but it also means we can be hacked, even by someone we have never met. We can buy and sell goods on the likes of eBay, but that also means we can be scammed, sold counterfeit goods or be victims of fraud.

Why doesn’t the very real risk of being a victim to cybercrime deter us from using it? We’re scared of being mugged, so we avoid going to high-crime areas at night; we don’t want to be burgled so we keep valuables out of the sight of passer-by’s – so why don’t we stop using the Internet? If something makes our lives easier, are we willing to risk our safety?

References:

Palmer, D. (2015) 2.5 million cyber crimes commited in UK in a year says Office for National Statistics. Computing. Available at: http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/news/2430622/25-million-cyber-crimes-commited-in-uk-in-a-year-says-office-for-national-statistics [Accessed 20 October 2016].

Cybercrime and effect on the civilians.

Cybercrime means different things to different people and as a result, there are plenty of definitions for it. In 2013 McGuire et al. broke ‘cybercrime’ down into two parts – cyber-dependent crimes and cyber-enabled crimes. Cyber-dependent crimes are ‘are offences that can only be committed by using a computer, computer networks, or other form of ICT’. This includes:

  • The spread of viruses
  • Hacking

Cyber-enabled crimes are ones which can be committed without the aid of a computer, but are often made easier with the use of one. These include:

  • Fraud
  • Theft
  • Harassment

All three of these crimes can be committed ‘traditionally’ ie face to face. However the introduction of the internet means that these crimes have developed, you no longer have to leave your house to harass someone or steal something. Whilst this might benefit some unsavoury characters, for the general public this makes life a lot scarier. To avoid being a victim of crime, it is not enough to simply avoid spooky alleyways at night, or to lock your doors anymore. With the development of crime there also needs to be a development of ways to avoid being a victim.

All of these blog posts will focus on how we, the civilians, interact with cybercrime – that is, how it affects us, what we might be doing to enable it, whether we fear cybercrime and whether we deserve the right to anonymity on the internet. A blog post will also focus on who should tackle cybercrime, as regardless of my focus, it is an important area to discuss.

This area of cybercrime is interesting to me as it is a part that directly affects people like me. It is not just theory, or something that ‘just happens to other people’, cybercrime can affect anyone, even university students! Rather than it just being a concept, like a lot of criminology is (for example, there is a lot of focus on prisoners (which I am not), lower class people (which I am not), or ex convicts (which I am not!), cybercrime does not discriminate, it will affect anyone.

References:

McGuire, M. and Dowling, S. (2013) Cyber crime: A review of the evidence Research Report 75 Summary of key findings and implications. Home Office. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/246749/horr75-summary.pdf [Accessed 11 October 2016].