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THE INEVITABLE RISE OF DIGITAL CRIME: IS THERE A SOLUTION?

"Emergent Technology is, by its very nature, out of control and leads to unpredictable outcomes." William Gibson

The arrest of Saddam Hussein was considered by many Americans and British civilians, military figures, and politicians to be the key to the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq. It wasn't. But what I want to discuss here is not the politics of the war in Iraq or Hussein's arrest. I want to examine the legality of the snuff film of his execution taken clandestinely by a digital device, a mobile phone camera.
          
The gruesome images taken in January 2007 of Hussein's execution were available for public viewing on Al-Jazeera and other websites on the internet within hours of the execution. That day, a million people had witnessed the execution. The man who made the film was arrested by the Iraqi authorities. Photographs or video images showing a death or "snuff" film used to be actionable or outlawed in the UK because they were "obscene, defamatory, libelous…encourag[ing] conduct that would be criminal or otherwise inappropriate." But now we have entered into an age of uncharted territory with digital or e-crimes. Now it appears impossible to legislate against such mobile phone images or control their reproduction as they move around the globe to unregulated jurisdictions.

Proposed solutions:

  1. Make sure your software is up to date. The more current your software, the less likely the hacker will know how to break in.
  2. Get some software that protects your system. You can even download some for free.
  3. Use a good password - no names or other common combinations. Use at least one number.
  4. Don't open email attachments from strangers (they may contain viruses or spyware). Don't download software unless you really need it and are certain of the author's ID.
          

The US Dept. of Justice which has developed the most legislation against digital crime has published a document intended to encourage good digital device practice entitled "Cyberethics" which "refers to a code of safe and responsible behaviour for the internet community." Perhaps the UK could publish such documents. Enacting more legislation is problematic because the crime is just transferred to a non-regulated jurisdiction. Regarding the illicit filming of the execution of Saddam Hussein, the Senior Vice-President of ABC Bob Murphy commented, the filming "shows the potential of cell phone video as a powerful new source for news organizations but also indicates the lack of control authorities have over people when they are allowed to take pictures." This comment strikes at the very heart of the problem of policing digital crime. The authorities have difficulty monitoring what people do in the privacy of their own homes and with so many billions of systems and PC's, it is virtually impossible to control the content of the internet. Perhaps there will be some better solutions in the future; at the moment, the present digital-crime wave demonstrates that digital technological devices have opened a veritable Pandora's Box of criminal offences.

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