The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has decided to take a more active interest in cyber crime. Secretary Janet Napolitano has called for joint cooperation with Europe in battling international cyber crime, terrorism, and trafficking.
Cyber crime comes in various forms. Much of it comes in the form of attacks on individuals for financial gain, such as computer intrusion and identity theft. Meaning, someone could access your computer remotely and steal information such as a Social Security number, then use it to access your credit cards and run up an enormous bill without your knowledge. Cyber crimes also consist of Internet pornography and online sex trafficking. Now the Department of Homeland Security is focused on cyber crimes committed by terrorists with the potential to bring down governments.
Napolitano points to recent attacks on the International Monetary Fund, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Senate. She notes that most countries lack a legal framework for dealing with cyber crimes, and have not kept pace with advances in online terrorist activity. Government and corporate computer systems may not have the security to withstand an attack.
Without a doubt, some cyber crimes have grown more brazen. Take, for example, the recent arrest of a 19-year old from the U.K., who was accused of bringing down the website for the U.K.’s version of the FBI, and having ties to hackers who targeted the CIA and U.S. Senate. Then there’s the fact that cyber attacks are being used as a choice weapon by other national governments. But not everyone accused of a cyber crime is guilty of committing one. It’s important to keep that distinction in mind.
Whether in a private home or in public, it is natural for several people to use the same computer throughout the course of a day. When the Department of Justice wants to investigate illegal activity, it may issue a subpoena to an Internet search engine company or an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to provide the online data of all of the users’ activities. It can even require that the ISP hold on to the data for as long as two years. As disturbing as it may be to have your activities dissected — activities that you may no longer engage in, because it was two years ago — it is even more disturbing when you are charged with a crime that you did not commit. That is because the search engine company or ISP has information about your computer, but not the person who used it. The person who used your computer to commit the crime could have been a passing acquaintance, someone you no longer keep in contact with. Even so, you are charged with a federal crime and must find a strong federal criminal defense attorney to fight the charges.
It may also be the case that you did commit a cyber crime. Maybe you mistakenly thought that someone you met online was of legal age, and it turned out to not be the case. With more and greater focus on punishing those who commit cyber crimes, you could end up facing a sentence out of proportion to the crime.
So while it is important for Homeland Security to try to prevent cyber attacks on sensitive government information, hopefully Napolitano and her successors can retain a sense of proportion — instead of casting an even broader net that ensnares people who would never dream of bringing down the U.S. government.