Three articles I read today about Internet crime created an interesting juxtaposition. A c|net article discussed the affordability of tools for sale to facilitate online criminal activity, a Washington Post article discussed how unsecured WiFi connections enable anonymous, roaming access for criminal activity, and a Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) discussed the prosecutorial trend of filing criminal charges in venues that are physically remote from the persons charged.
According to c|net RSA, which monitors transactions on websites and ICQ channels between providers and consumers of hacking tools, reported at a recent conference that the tools are becoming more sophisticated while their prices are falling. Vendors are offering bulk discounts: 1-10 purloined eBay accounts cost $5.00/each, but the price drops to $4.50/each for 10-50 accounts, and to $3.50 for another 50 accounts. The Washington Post article begins with the tale of police, armed with a warrant, closing in on a suspected pedophile who traded child pornography online. Their target location was inhabited by an elderly woman who had nothing to do with the crime, other than being the owner of the wireless router beaming broadband access throughout her apartment building. Apparently one of her neighbors–police could not trace who it was–gained access through her router. There are more than 46,000 public wireless access points around the country, making it easy to log in, do harm, log out, and move on. The Post quoted a law enforcement official: “It’s frustrating for officers . . . If a suspect is going from coffee shop to coffee shop and using free signals to commit crimes, the police probably aren’t going to catch him. That’s the reality.”
The Journal balances the bad-guys-are-winning theme. In the short history of Internet law one thing is axiomatic: the Internet is everywhere. Usually we discuss how the Internet’s ubiquity frustrates regulation. It also enables prosecutors to charge crimes against remote defendants. If a police investigator downloads child porn to a computer in Buffalo, New York from a man residing in Massachusetts, it does not matter that the defendant has never set foot in Buffalo: he can face prosecution there because the crime was committed there. A concern exists that prosecutors will chose venues that will be hostile–or at least inconvenient to–the defendant but, as one attorney notes in this article, “inconvenience isn’t a defense.”