Australian Institute of Criminology

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Effective investigation of high tech crime

Media Release

02 December 2004

Increasing instances of high tech crime are now being investigated by law enforcement agencies, often by specialist high tech crime units, Dr Toni Makkai, the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology said today.

Dr Makkai today released the latest reports from the AIC, 'Impediments to the successful investigation of transnational high tech crime' and 'Criminal forfeiture and restriction-of-use orders in sentencing high tech offenders' which address several of the issues faced by high tech crime investigators and courts in dealing with these cases.

"The reports offered a number of solutions that could be used to streamline future investigations in cyberspace as well to ensure that appropriate punishments are used for people convicted of computer-related crimes", Dr Makkai said.

Online technologies make it relatively simple to disguise a person's true identity, to misrepresent identity, or to make use of someone else's identity.

When a person is resident in a country other than the one in which the criminal proceedings are to be taken, the procedures involved in extradition are complex and difficult.

Conducting investigations across national borders raises many practical problems. These include investigators having to contact people on the other side of the globe, documents having to be translated and witnesses from non-English speaking countries needing the assistance of interpreters.

"All of these impediments can be overcome by harmonising laws and procedures globally, and improving the technical capabilities of investigators", Dr Makkai said.

The kinds of computer crimes examined include gaining access to computers without authorisation by 'hacking and 'cracking', causing viruses to be disseminated and the possession or distribution of illegal content such as child pornography.

The difficulty that courts face in sentencing is to impose an appropriate punishment that will have some deterrent effect while at the same time being enforceable and not unduly restrictive on others who may share the offender's computer.

Court decisions remain in their infancy and appeal courts are only the beginning of exploring the boundaries and appropriateness of some of the conditional orders being imposed.

Evaluative research needs to be undertaken to assess the impact of orders, both on the individual offender, as well as others who may be affected.