Australian Institute of Criminology

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New crimes in a technology-enabled environment

Media Release

05 September 2007

Serious concerns exist about the ways in which new technologies are likely to be misused in the years to come.

Today, Dr Toni Makkai, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, released two publications looking at the future environment in which Australians will use information and communications technologies and how this environment will provide opportunities for illegality and infringement of current regulatory controls. The reports are 'Future directions in technology-enabled crime: 2007-09', the most recent publication in the AIC's Research and public policy series, and 'The future of technology-enabled crime in Australia', number 341 in the Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice series.

The reports identify developments that may facilitate technology-based crime. These include:

  • globalisation and the emergence of new economics
  • increased widespread use of broadband services and mobile and wireless technologies
  • increased use of electronic payment systems
  • changes in government use of technology to allow the public to conduct transactions securely, including participation in democracy.

The most likely areas in which opportunities for illegality may arise include fraud, identity-related crime, computer viruses and malicious code, theft of information, dissemination of objectionable material online, and risks of organised crime and terrorism.

The burden of protection against misuse of the technology has largely fallen onto individual users because public agencies have a limited role to play in the prevention of technology-enabled crimes and manufacturers have often failed to develop systems to protect users fully prior to releasing new products. The design of the personal computer and the global adoption of the internet have been largely in the hands of private sector forces with less focus on security than on functionality.

At present there is limited capacity in law enforcement to investigate a high volume of technology-enabled crimes. The reports suggest strategies that could reduce the risk of exposure to these crimes. These include:

  • industry developing more secure hardware and software
  • increased sharing of information between public and private sectors
  • use of police taskforces to respond to particularly complex technology-enabled crimes
  • the threat of prosecution and punishment, particularly where substantial penalties can be imposed, and publicity given to successful prosecutions
  • sharing of information and intelligence across jurisdictional borders, both within Australia and internationally.

The reports highlight the need for legislative reforms to address the emergence of these crimes. Areas in which reform is needed include:

  • capacity to deal with criminal complicity - an increase in instances of individuals acting jointly in the commission of a crime
  • greater uniformity in legislation across jurisdictions because of the likelihood of multiple jurisdictions being involved
  • development of new admissibility of evidence procedures to counter the new and sophisticated defences to charges that will be developed
  • new punishments will need to be explored, such as forfeiture of computers and restriction-of-use orders, that may be more effective in deterring crime than traditional punishments.

Funding for this research was provided by the Australian High Tech Crime Centre.