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The 20th century saw the emergence of the Information Age. Beginning in the late 1980s information technology (IT) began to dominate the lives of people, especially those in the Western world. This was made possible by two major technological breakthroughs: the invention of the personal computer and the creation of the Internet or World-Wide-Web.
These two distinct yet related technologies were combined to create a powerful network of computers that enabled the high-speed sharing of information and ideas. It did not take long before people began to utilize it for information dissemination, business, and social networking. There are a lot of positive things that resulted from the use of IT.
On the other hand unscrupulous men and women also used the same to make dishonest gain, torment others, and to commit crimes beyond the limitations of geographical borders. It is therefore imperative to develop an international coalition that would establish common laws and ethical standards to govern the use of IT, especially when it comes to the World-Wide-Web.
One of the most amazing consequences of information technology is the ability to communicate over long distances. Although long-distance telecommunication was common even before World War II, it was only during the advent of IT when people can communicate to somebody living in another continent and do so without having to spend a great deal of money. As a result websites and other IT applications were developed at a frenetic pace as businessmen and private individuals discovered how IT can enhance their lives.
The proliferation of websites coupled with the increase in computer literacy ushered in the Information Age. At the same time globalization became more evident. It is true that international relations were a reality for centuries.
Nevertheless, the realization that nations were interconnected and that human beings were citizens in one global village was only apparent to national leaders and not to the common people. In the past, two people living in two different countries can establish a relationship only through letters and telegrams.
The process was terribly slow; it is possible that messages can only reach the intended recipient after many weeks. But with the Internet, globalization was a concept readily understood by the average person and not just international businesspeople. The following definition explains why IT fast-tracked globalization:
The World-Wide-Web is an infrastructure of information distributed among thousands of computers across the world and the software by which that information is accessed. The Web relies on underlying networks, especially the Internet, as the vehicle to exchange the information among users. (Dale & Lewis, 2010)
With the proliferation of websites and the sudden surge in computer literacy the planet began to experience globalization in a scale never before seen. There were international relations centuries before the Internet but it was limited to diplomatic relations between two heads of state. The creation of software and hardware that enabled the use of emails and instant messaging allowed users from different nations to connect and forge relationships both in the personal and professional levels.
The Social Impact
Information technology can be used for good or evil. It has nothing to do with technology because the abuse of IT tools and applications is linked to human nature. There are those who cannot resist the power that IT can give them when it comes to committing crime with the minimal chance of being caught.
The Internet paved the way for the establishment of a communication system that is cost-efficient and highly reliable. However, there are ill-minded people that were given access to a powerful tool that would allow them to access personal information, financial records, and business records without being physically present in the targeted home or business establishment. They can do all their illegal activities miles away or even outside the country.
This new phenomenon is made more difficult by the fact that cybercrime can be done beyond the borders of the UK. In a BBC News online commentary, experts are saying that foreign websites could not be prosecuted by British laws (BBC News, p.1). This has prompted many to be more vigilant and to prosecute with the full force of the law any British citizen found guilty of violating standards and statutes with regards to the use of the Internet.
According to experts, “Cybercrime is one of the terms used to denote the use of computer technology to engage in unlawful activity. Computer crime, high-tech crime and information-age crime are also used to describe this phenomenon.
Most of the cybercrime we have seen so far is nothing more than the migration of real-world crimes into cyberspace” (Jewkes, p.14). As a result the Internet has become a favourite tool for a new breed of criminals that can even reside as far as Eastern Europe or Nigeria and yet produce the same amount of damage.
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These criminals now have access to elaborate schemes that they can use to commit identity theft, embezzlement of funds, and extortion. Aside from stealing money, cybercrime is also about putting a new spin into ancient crimes such as child pornography, human trafficking, blackmail etc. Consider the following commentary:
Another instance of globalisation at work is the relatively recent arrival of a complex network of world linked through the Internet that caters to child pornographers and paedophiles. By most accounts this is widespread, much condemned but quite hard to regulate, and it has generated extensive public talk about it as a problem in much of the Western Media (Carrabine et al, p.164).
In addition, cybercrime can also be associated with the destruction of personal property. In the Information Age, this can mean deletion and corruption of valuable data found in personal computers and computer database. Thus, the creation of computer viruses, worms, and other types of malicious computer code can be designated as cybercrime if used to cause harm to the livelihood and personal life of another human being.
Aside from the information dissemination aspect of cybercrime, the Internet can be used to facilitate illegal activities such as the sale of drugs, weapons, and harmful chemicals. These activities can be labelled as transnational crimes or illegal activities committed by international syndicates – led by people who have no respect over international boundaries. It is therefore imperative to create some form of a coalition composed of different nations in order to bring cybercriminals to justice.
Something has to be done to regulate the Internet. This is of course easier said than done. However, cybercriminals must not have the impression that they can do anything that they want to do without reaping the consequences of their actions. This can be achieved by the creation of tough laws and the existence of an executive arm to demonstrate that regulators and law enforcement agencies have the power to pursue violators.
It must begin with the realisation that law enforcement agencies are dealing with a different type of criminal. Cybercriminals are adept in creating virtual identities and the capability to be mobile. Information technology has grown to such an extent that computers can be miniaturised and yet possesses the same computing power; so much so that a person inside a vehicle can still perform illegal transactions over the Web. It is impossible to prosecute a phantom.
As of the present there are still no specific laws that gives power to law enforcement officials in UK to apprehend those who build and profit scandalous websites and those that demonstrates a clear bending of the rules. This is probably due to the fact that ethical standards are subject to interpretation.
But even those that are guilty of clear violations can easily evade capture and prosecution. The explanation is simple; in the UK there are no laws that call for a more stringent regulation of the Internet (Bidgoli, p.5). This was highlighted when many called for more drastic actions when it comes to paedophilia as well as other hard core pornographic content on British websites.
Nevertheless, there were minor developments in this regard. According to experts “In the United Kingdom concern over Internet content has not led to specific legislation or licensing controls. However, it has led to the establishment in September 1996 of the Internet Watch Foundation or IWF (Price & Verhulst, p. 70). This is the step in the right direction.
The UK government must take the lead in creating an international body that would be instrumental in reducing the incidence of cybercrimes. But a more practical approach is to begin the process in the local front. The UK government must not only develop laws that would deal with this issue; it must also involve all the stakeholders and all those who are affected by the rise of cybercrimes in the UK.
The government must not only work with individuals but also companies that form the backbone of the IT industry in this country. For instance this government must work closely with Internet Service Providers. At the same time the opposition to cybercrime must be initiated in the grassroots levels to include the participation of parents, teenagers, teachers, and local community leaders.
Information technology has transformed the way people live. It is now an integral part of how people communicate and conduct their day-to-day business transactions. However, there are those who are using the same technology for illegal purposes. These violators are committing crimes with impunity because they have the power to steal and peddle illegal items far away from the intended target. In most cases local governments do not have the capability to apprehend and prosecute.
But cybercriminals and other unscrupulous people who exploit the Internet may soon come face-to-face with an international agency intent on regulating the World-Wide-Web and bringing to justice those found to have disregard ethics and shamelessly flaunted their capability to destroy the lives of people. The local government in UK must take the lead and in the process show the world that a coalition can be formed safeguarding the common interest of law-abiding citizens all over the world.
BBC News. Do Violent Net Porn Laws Go Far Enough? 2007. BBC.co.uk. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/4196864.stm. 25 July 2011.
Bidgoli, H. The Internet Encyclopedia. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004.
Carrabine, E. et al. Criminology a Sociological Introduction. London: Routledge, 2004.
Dale, N. & J. Lewis. Computer Science Illuminated. MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2010.
Jewkes, Y. Crime Online: Commiting, Policing and Regulating. OR: William Publishing, 2007.
Price, M. & Verhulst, S. Charting the Course of Self-Regulation on the Internet in a Global Environment. In C.T. Marsden (Ed.) Regulating the Global Information Society. London: Routledge, 2000.