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           Legal         Aspects     of    Computer      Crime
            "echo subscribe lacc|mail lacc-request@suburbia.net"


    The growing infusion of computers and computing devices into society
    created a legislative and common law vacuum in the 1980's. State
    prosecutors attempted to apply traditional property protection and
    deception laws to new technological crimes. By and large they were
    successful in this endeavor. There were however a very few but well
    publicized failed cases against computer "hackers" (most notable R
    vs Gold - UK House of Lords).

    In an atmosphere of increased government reliance on computer
    databases and public fear and hostility towards computerization of
    the workplace, the world's legislatures rushed to criminalize
    certain types of computer use.  Instead of expanding the scope of
    existing legislation to more fully encompass the use of computers by
    criminals, changing phrases such as "utter or write" to "utter,
    write or transmit" (the former being the prosecutions undoing in the
    well publicized Gold case) as had been done with the computerization
    of copyright law, an entirely new class of criminal conduct was was
    introduced. The computer had been seen not just as another tool that
    criminals might use in committing a crime but something altogether
    foreign and removed from the rest of society and established Law.
    The result was a series of nievely drafted, overly broad and
    under-defined statutes which criminalized nearly all aspects of
    computer use under certain conditions.

    In the the 1990's a fundamental and evolving shift in computer usage
    in computer usage has started to occur.  At work it is rare now to
    see a white collar worker not in the possession of a computer. At
    home over one third of households have computer systems. The
    computer is no longer the "altogether foreign and removed from the
    rest of society" device it once was. It has come out of the domain
    technical specialist and into the main stream.

    Even our notoriously slow moving legal profession is adopting it as
    an essential tool. But there is another change. A qualitative one
    important to our discussion.

    When you connect hundreds of thousands of computers and thus the
    people that use them together you find something remarkable occurs.
    An event that you could never have predicted by merely summing the
    discrete components involved. A unique virtual society forms. Despite
    being designed with computer networking in mind computer crime 
    legislation copes very poorly with non homogeneous authorization.

    Society's are based around a common knowledge of history, beliefs,
    and current events. Each member of a society can be pinpointed as
    belonging to the society in question by the ideas, beliefs and
    knowledge they hold in common with its other members. Any new member
    to a society learns this knowledge only because it is passed onto
    them; directly by other members or indirectly via its media, works of
    literature or observation.

    Successful large scale computer networks like the Internet form for
    one reason and one reason only; information sharing. When a critical
    mass of diversity, interests, user population and information exchange
    is reached, a situation develops that mirrors in all important
    aspects a vibrant and evolving society. Members of these computer
    network societies have nearly equal ability to convey their thoughts
    to other members and do so in a timely manner without unwanted
    distortion.  This is a remarkably democratic process compared to the
    very real self censorship and top heavy direction that is so
    manifest in traditional broadcast and publishing industries.

    But unlike the physical societies that have here-to been the norm,
    the electronic network society is not isolationist. It continues to
    draw from, mesh and feed its beliefs into the traditional societies
    it was populated out of. This coupling process between computer
    networks and traditional societies is expected to continue - at
    least for English speaking countries, until a stage is reached were
    it is difficult to find any boundary between the two.

    The majority of citizens will then fall most completely under the
    gamut of the appalling drafted computer crimes legislation many
    times every day of their lives. In the vast majority of legislation
    directed to address computer crime everything which can be performed
    on a computer unless "authorized" is defined as illegal. Granted an
    individual can authorize themselves to do anything they wish with
    their own computer, but in a networked topology a typical computer
    user may use or otherwise interact with hundreds or even thousands
    of other peoples computers in any given day.  In Law it has
    previously been the case that which was not expressly forbidden was
    permitted.  Currently the digital equivalent of moving a chair is
    illegal and carries with it in most countries a 5 to 10 year prison
    term. It is a sad reflection on the legislature of the day that the
    computer medium was criminalized rather than the intent or damage to
    to the victem.

    It is unlikely that law reform will occur until current political
    concern over computer networks such as the Internet is moderated. If
    anything the push so far from political drafters has being to once again
    introduce brand new medium criminalizing legislation rather than
    revitalizing the existing codes. This unfortunate "labeled arrow"
    approach will continue as long as there exists an ill informed and
    technologically ignorant legislature that finds itself pliant to the
    whims of sensationalist media and honed to their dubious targets.

    So ill defined and over broad are the terms used in computer crime
    legislation that in most western countries pressing a button on a
    silicon wrist watch without permission can be construed as
    "insertion of data into a computer without authority" an offence
    which carries 10 years penalty in some countries.

    It is however within the above unfortunate lack of appropriate
    legislation, precedents and judicial guidance that judiciary,
    practitioners, prosecutors, law enforcement personnel and drafters
    of future codes have to struggle to find resolution.

    This list has been created in an attempt to mitigate the lack of
    tangible resources people involved with computer crime rely on. It
    is hoped that by bringing together knowledgeable people in the
    aforementioned fields together with para-legal personnel and
    informed lay persons; information and resources relevant to the
    difficult task of analyzing, presenting in court or otherwise
    dealing with computer crime law and computer crimes may be shared
    and intelligent discussion stimulated.

    nb. this list it is also an appropriate forum to discuss computerized
        legal, law enforcement and criminology databases, such as Netmap,
        Watson, PROMIS, Lexis, APAIS, CRIM-L, et cetera.


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crime.                                   as...."
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