Crime and communications are perennial and pervasive features of society, while equally subject to dramatic change. They have a complex and evolving relationship, covering both the communications function or service and its realization through communication technology. Attempts to control crime involve both conventional law enforcement/criminal justice and broader, more “scientific” approaches to prevention.
Crime is simultaneously a set of hazardous events and the expression of social conflicts, varying in seriousness from littering to terrorism; in target from property to person, organization, group, and society; in motive from materialism to sex, power and status, revenge and ideology; in organization and complexity from impulsive vandalism to international networks of people-traffickers; and pervading all of society from homes and shops to global financial systems in cyberspace. Beyond individual criminal events, fear of crime and distrust and avoidance of people, places, services, or systems prone to crime may have independent negative effects on social and economic life for individuals, economies, and communities – hence the interest in the role of the media in elevating fear and the wider “quality of life” concept of community safety. The trust necessary for secure transactions and services is difficult to establish/maintain in the absence of face-to-face contact, posing a serious problem for government, trade, financial, and other systems increasingly based on remote communications.
Communication Technology And Crime
The evolving relationship between communications and crime mostly involves old crime in new forms (such as school bullying switching to cyberspace with hostile text messages or “happy-slapping” – taking movie clips of assaults for camera-phone transmission to friends). Entirely new crimes are unlikely except for contraventions of new regulations protecting communications themselves, such as anti-spam laws or those criminalizing possession of equipment for overcoming security features of mobile phones. The crime–communications relationship can be understood using the “misdeeds and security” framework. This distinguishes generic roles which some functioning object, service, or system, or its underlying technology, can play in criminal events and processes.
For instance, communications as both a service and a technology can be misappropriated and act as a target of crime by being stolen or fraudulently obtained. Both can be mistreated, as for example through damage via denial of service or hacking. Mistakes in communications, as with accidental emergency calls to police from improperly locked and protected mobile phones, can also deny service, and mishandling may include improperly obtaining information in transit, or inserting false/misleading information into a message stream. Misjustification can take place when pedophiles or animal-rights extremists come to assume that their views and activities are widespread and acceptable through, for example, self-selecting newsgroups. Misbehavior with a communication system includes putting obscene or satirical messages on it for wider transmission. Both function and technology can be misused in the service of crime, whether by giving false information (as in hate-crime websites); obtaining information by deception (phishing: sending emails purporting to come from the receiver’s bank requesting confirmation of security details, which are used to plunder the account); fraudulent sales, or disposal of stolen goods, on Internet auctions; coordinating crimes, football riots, or terrorist attacks; spying on rivals, enemies, or sexual prey; or remote detonation of bombs. A whole series of compound criminal involvements can occur; for example, mishandling of signals from remote car-locking devices by illicit reception, then misusing the code to misappropriate the vehicle. With communications technology and items such as mobile phones, there are empirically and theoretically based risk factors (Clarke and Newman 2005): products most likely stolen are concealable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable, and disposable. Trends toward miniaturization, portability, and added value that drive legitimate markets in mobile phones also drive theft. Continual emergence of new products/features and fashion considerations ensure that neither legitimate nor illegitimate demand diminishes with saturated markets.
With the communications function, several aspects are important:
- Physical constraints affecting risk, effort, and reward ratios in real-world crimes lose their strength or relevance; for example, emails can be intercepted anywhere in the network, and Trojan-Horse software accidentally received over the Internet can turn computers into spies that reveal passwords and bank details to remote users. Vulnerabilities can be rapidly and efficiently exploited before any compromise and loss are detected and loopholes closed.
- The identity of offenders is often linked only tenuously to the crime “scene,” and social constraints from empathy with personal victims are weakened if the victim cannot be seen, heard, or imagined.
- Electronic media expose children to peer and other nonparental influences in socialization, which may create/reinforce a criminal predisposition, though research evidence remains conflicting.
- Technologically enabled cross-jurisdiction crimes and criminal collaborations inhibit enforcement through diversity of national legal systems, extradition barriers, and even what constitutes crime or what is a local priority for enforcement (as with Internet pedophilia).
- Specialist knowledge and equipment for law enforcement involving modern communication systems are scarce and costly, and organized crime especially builds itself around networks.
- Knowledge transfer among criminals is facilitated – the Internet and search engines make information on explosives, lock-picking, etc. readily available.
Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, And Crime Prevention
Criminal events extend beyond offender and victim to include the infraction of formal rules and informal norms supported and enforced by society. However, these traditional approaches to crime control have significant limitations. Their capacity is constrained and the cost-effectiveness of conventional law enforcement and imprisonment is also limited. Alternative, preventive forms of crime control with potentially greater capacity and cost-effectiveness and fewer side-effects have developed on a more rational, causal, and evidence-based footing (Sherman et al. 2002).
Crime prevention reduces the risk and potential seriousness of criminal events by intervening in their causes. Preventive interventions can broadly be classified in terms of whether they act through manipulating the disposition and motivation of the offender (usually via attempts to influence the risk and protective factors in parenting, schooling, etc., and current life circumstances such as poverty or stress), or the immediate crime situation. Practical methods of “situational crime prevention” (Clarke 1997) change the immediate environment to influence offenders’ “rational” perception of risk, effort, and reward and hence their decision to commit a crime.
Situational and offender-based causes (and equivalent preventive interventions) are combined in the conjunction of criminal opportunity framework, which has been applied to cyberspace (Collins and Mansell 2005, 64, Table 7). This describes the causation of criminal events in terms of offenders predisposed, motivated, and equipped to commit crime, encountering or engineering a crime situation with a vulnerable, attractive, or provocative target in a conducive environment. The environment may lack people (or intelligent, active software) that act as crime preventers and contain those who act as “crime promoters” such as fences, or those “criminal service providers” who circumvent security by supplying passwords or doctoring security chips on mobile phones.
Design And Evolution
Crime prevention is only one of many requirements in communications systems/ technology and is often low in priority for the commissioners and users. Designers are challenged by “troublesome tradeoffs” between security and cost, convenience, privacy, fail-safety, and a range of other values. Since there is little to distinguish illegitimate from legitimate use of communications, making systems user-friendly while abuser-unfriendly demands informed creativity and subtlety of the same order as medicine requires when destroying tumors without killing healthy tissue.
Crime and crime prevention are locked in an arms race, with preventers struggling to keep up with adaptive criminals and changing circumstances. Designers of many new technological applications and systems fail to “think thief ” and a vulnerable product or service appears on the market, followed by a “crime harvest” and often inefficient or awkward attempts to retrofit security. Even when the motivation to forestall crime is there, the emergent properties of complex systems mean that surprise opportunities for crime will appear. Laws are especially prone to lag behind new forms of crime, particularly in rapidly evolving and complex technical fields where moral/ethical issues are not entirely clear and agreement is hard to reach. Communications technology and services are one such field, with advantage continually shifting between offenders and preventers in perpetual disequilibrium – “disturbed ground” in ecological terms.
Although preventive principles are perennial, knowledge of what specific preventive methods work is thus a wasting asset. To keep crime at tolerable levels preventers must out-innovate and anticipate criminals; and must apply strategies such as researching offender capabilities, horizon-scanning, built-in future-proofing (as with automatically downloadable security patches for computer operating systems), generating a variety of security features and hence maximizing design freedom, and developing security standards based on performance criteria rather than fixed technical specifications.
Toleration Of Crime
“Rational” approaches to coping with crime problems can include simple toleration and concealment. Politically unacceptable in the public sphere, toleration, and the passing on of costs to consumers, is a common strategy in commerce. It is more likely where the costs of criminal justice involvement and the effects on a company’s reputation for competence and security are considerable, the costs of prevention are high (and may even put off customers through inconvenience), and the costs of crime to the company are limited (profit may sufficiently outstrip loss even with a large “parasitic burden” of crime). However, such toleration and inactivity allow collective commercial and social costs such as mistrust to grow, and they amount to market failure. Where victims are not companies themselves but third parties (such as purchasers of goods or services that are then stolen or enable identity theft), companies’ savings on security specifications become externalized costs to users, other citizens or organizations, and the taxpayer.
In such circumstances governments have felt obliged to step in. Attempts to incentivize crime prevention have included “climate setting,” by encouraging the public as customers or shareholders to understand that companies have some causal and contributory moral responsibility for the occurrence of crime, and to expect that they will alter their products or services to reduce the risk. Market forces can be awakened or supplemented by publishing a theft index of vulnerable makes, models, or services, “naming and shaming,” providing financial incentives, or fostering pre-competitive collaborations.
- Clarke, R. (ed.) (1997). Situational crime prevention: Successful case studies, 2nd edn. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.
- Clarke, R., & Newman, G. (eds.) (2005). Designing out crime from products and systems. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press and Cullompton: Willan.
- Collins, B., & Mansell, R. (eds.) (2005). Trust and crime in information societies. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
- Ekblom, P. (1997). Gearing up against crime: A dynamic framework to help designers keep up with the adaptive criminal in a changing world. International Journal of Risk, Security and Crime Prevention, 2(4), 249–265.
- Ekblom, P. (2005). Designing products against crime. In N. Tilley (ed.), Handbook of crime prevention and community safety. Cullompton: Willan, pp. 203–244.
- Ekblom, P. (ed.) (2006). Frameworks for crime prevention and community safety. At www.designagainstcrime.com/web/crimeframeworks, accessed September 1, 2006.
- Morris, S. (2004). The future of netcrime now: Part 1 – threats and challenges; Part 2 – responses. Home Office Online Reports 62/04 and 63/04. At www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/onlinepubs1.html, accessed September 1, 2006.
- Sherman, L., Farrington, D., MacKenzie, D., & Welsh, B. (2002). Evidence based crime prevention. London: Routledge.
- Smith, M., & Tilley, N. (eds.) (2005). Crime science: New approaches to preventing and detecting crime. Cullompton: Willan.