Criminology Writing Sample High-Tech Crime

The evolution of technology, both from the standpoint of victims and criminals, has truly revolutionized the fields of criminology and the legal infrastructure necessary to respond to the use of technological tools to commit criminal acts.  For the most part, to be sure, the crimes remain fundamentally the same.  Theft, for example, is now accomplished through fiber optic cables rather than through a physical breaking and entering.  There are also new types of crime such as identity theft.  This paper will discuss the definition of high-tech-crime, the three main types of high-tech crime, and the complications involved in creating an effective criminological approach to high-tech crime.

As an initial matter, it is quite important to note that high-tech crime is complicated by the fact that it knows no boundaries and that a variety of different technologies are being utilized to commit criminal offenses.  The scope of this type of criminal activity is extraordinarily broad and this is reflected in a Department of Justice definition that defines computer crime as any violations of criminal law that involve a knowledge of computer technology for their perpetration, investigation, or prosecution.  High tech-crime includes traditional crimes committed through the use of computers, an increasing number of crimes being committed through the use of the internet, and new technology-specific crimes.

There are three main types of high-tech crimes.  The first type of crime is essentially a criminal offense against a computer in which a computer is the object of the crime.  A typical crime in this case is a theft of software through high-tech means and methods.  The offenders may be seeking profits or trade secrets and the perpetrators may be competitors or disgruntled employees.  The second type of crime is when the computer is the subject rather than the object of a crime more specifically, in this type of case, the criminal activity involves such things as worms, viruses, and distributed denial of service attacks.  In this type of high-tech crime, many studies have suggested that the offenders are often motivated by some type of ill-will or mischievousness rather than financial gains. Many of the offenders have been juveniles testing out their hacking and other computer related skills.  While the offender motive is often not financial gain, the victims frequently suffer significant financial losses as a consequence. The third type of crime is when a computer is used as an instrument to carry out the crime.  This typically involves crimes such as an identity theft, copyright infringement, the illegal collection and distribution of pornography, and wire fraud.  The offenders here may be motivated by financial considerations or by personal desires that are legally prohibited similarly, the victims may range from innocent people whose identities have been stolen to sexually abused children and major record companies whose copyrights have been infringed.  What emerges from even the most superficial examination is an extraordinarily broad range of technologies used to commit a broad range of crimes.

Pursuing high-tech criminals is complicated by a number of factors.  First, law enforcement tends to be restricted by national boundaries whereas criminals are not when they are using technological methods.  Second, law enforcement seems to be behind the technological curve more specifically, they are constantly trying to catch up to the criminals technologically.  Finally, as law enforcement attempts to establish a present in cyberspace, many privacy concerns have been raised.  There are fears that the police are unable to keep up with high-tech criminals and when they do there are privacy concerns raised.  These fears need to be harmonized if high-tech crimes are to be better identified and prosecuted.

In the final analysis, the rise and the success of many high-tech crimes has forced a reassessment and a refinement of many criminological and legal models.  This is because the very nature of many high-tech crimes does not conform to existing models and paradigms.  Rather than being afraid of technology, however, the emphasis should be on the incorporation of technology in order to serve criminology goals and functions.


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