Computers Raise New Issues In Law Enforcement
The always evolving use of computers and the internet has presented new, often unanticipated, tools and consequences in the world of criminal law and civil practice. Once something is sent over the internet, whether as simple as a text message or as demonstrative as a pornographic movie, it is out in cyberspace forever and may become evidence in a trial. Even what is “deleted” can be recovered from a computer’s “hard drive” by the use of sophisticated technology.
Online communications are often intended to be anonymous, emails and attachments are often open to mistake or misinterpretation. These types of events are often investigated:
1. So-called “Ponzi Schemes,” use of false telephone numbers or email addresses to “phish” for money, and use of false identities to take unfair advantage of people in need of money.
2. Online sex solicitations: Introductions in “chat rooms” develop into allegations of attempted sexual assault; adult and child pornography may be sent over the internet and, indeed, the mere receipt and unexplained retention of images can be prosecuted.
For example, solicitation of minors for sex has become a high-profile computer crime with the advent of “stings” broadcast throughout the nation. The “minor” is usually an adult – a police officer – but the impossibility of completing the crime is not a defense to the charge of “attempted sexual assault upon a minor.” Law enforcement and prosecutors are aggressive in going after those accused of attempted sexual assault or distributing child pornography via the internet. Every sex-related prosecutor threatens the defendant with prison time followed by lifetime sex offender registration.
3. Competitors and employees are often accused of abusing the privilege of access by “hacking” into closed corporate networks.