Lori Getz:†What was once shoplifting is now piracy; mail fraud has become identity theft; predators of opportunity have become predators who groom victims via social websites -- and human trafficking is as easy as ordering a pizza!
Over the past 10 years, I have watched the evolution of the Internet as it went from being a mono-directional platform to becoming an interactive playground where anything is possible. Young people engage in what they believe to be harmless activities, when in fact they may be inadvertently crossing a dangerous line -- either as perpetrators or as victims.†
Piracy:†This is the act of illegally copying or downloading copyrighted material (including music, movies and software). People continue to commit piracy for several reasons, such as: 1) It's easy to do; 2) It saves them money; 3) They think they won't get caught and 4) They believe it's a victimless crime. But the latter is just not true. One credible analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation concluded that, every year, global music piracy causes $12.5 billion in economic losses, 71,060 U.S. job losses and a loss of $2.7 billion in workers' income. That doesn't sound so victimless to me.
Identity Theft: The FTC estimates that as many as nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. The difference between identity theft pre-Internet and post-Internet is twofold. First, our information is much more accessible to criminals now (no dumpster-diving needed; just some malware sent through an e-mail) and second, the Internet provides an anonymous way to obtain commodities (you don't need to show I.D. to a clerk to prove a credit card is yours).
Predators: There are really two types of predators: opportunistic predators (who wait for a situation wherein a child becomes vulnerable) and those who groom their victims by developing a relationship with them in order to built trust. With the Internet, it's far easier to groom a child, because the predator can hide behind the veil of anonymity and pretend to be anyone the child wants him to be.†In 1993, there were only 5,000 websites on the Internet. Today, there are over 2.5 billion -- and more than 12,000 of them are run by pedophiles.
Human Trafficking:†This is a very misunderstood concept. According to Robin Sax,†author of "Predators and Child Molesters" and†a former Deputy DA who specialized in prosecuting sex crimes against children, the United States is the largest consumer of human-trafficking victims. "When people hear 'human trafficking,' they assume that this is an overseas crime," says Sax. "But American children are easy targets, and they carry less risk for buyers because they don't need to be imported."
Sax states that the role of technology in human trafficking is significant due to the sense of anonymity, the ease and inexpensiveness of producing and distributing child pornography and the lowered risk of being caught (because traffickers don't need to leave their homes). Recently, in an open letter to Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, Sax recounted the story of 11-year-old Bethany, who was taken from foster care by a 32-year-old man and then sold for sex through Craigslist.
Yet, although we are seeing new crimes (and old crimes, reinvented) on the Internet, we are also seeing new ways to combat criminal activity.
Broadband for America published a series of videos called "40 Ways the Internet Has Changed Our World," one of which featured the TV show "America's Most Wanted" and its interactive website. Since the inception of the online exchange, citizens have assisted in catching more than 1,000 criminals.
Also, law enforcement agencies are using the Web to catch criminals -- sometimes in the act.†"It's not that we are engaging in conversations with criminals; we are just looking at what they post," said a Los Angeles police officer. "There is no expectation of privacy when it comes to committing a crime."
Even "offline" criminal activities-- †such as vandalism, carrying concealed weapons and drug use -- are present on the Web. Some criminals boast about their activities on sites like MySpace and Facebook, posting comments and uploading pictures of the actual crime.†Police officers are able to use this information in both catching and prosecuting criminals.
We have to remember that the Internet is just another community, with good guys and bad guys. As always, it comes down to this: It's our behavior that matters!