"The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online, and the Cops Followed"
On this edition of ST, we chat by phone with Nate Anderson, a senior editor at Ars Technica, which is a long-running online journal that features IT news, reviews, and analysis. Anderson's work has also appeared in The Economist and Foreign Policy, and his new book, just out, is called "The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online, and the Cops Followed." It's a work that carefully documents how the early, little-to-no-regulation days of the Web gave new opportunities and new avenues to con artists, cheats, liars, spies, snoops, spammers, pornographers, thieves, and other crooks --- and how this new manner of criminal activity basically invented a new kind of police work. The book is, as a reviewer for Kirkus has written, "a nuanced study of crime on the Internet and how government and law enforcement agencies have been tackling it.... Anderson seems somewhat sympathetic to the notion of the Internet's borderless, innovative exceptionalism. But unlike advocates of unfettered creative chaos and online liberty, the author argues that since the Internet went global in the 1990s, it has been followed by a rise in online criminal activities harmful to life, limb, and property in the 'real' world. These problems include offshore havens, child pornography, cyber-peeping and extortion, spam-botting, and identity theft, all of which have made policing it not only necessary, but inevitable. Rather than create new entities to handle these crimes, governments have relied on boots already on the ground: local police forces, the Federal Trade Comission, the FBI, even Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has pursued overseas violators of American copyright protections with unusual --- sometimes indiscriminate --- aggressiveness. Anderson isn't altogether impressed with the results. While scoring some impressive arrests and convictions of the creators and consumers of child pornography and of a creepy peeper named Luis Mijangos, law enforcement and the courts have had more difficulty going after spammers, pirates, and other online crooks. In some cases, they have breeched privacy as brazenly as Mijangos, using remote access tools to spy on 'owners' of stolen laptops, for example, without troubling themselves with obtaining court-issued warrants. Spammers and other fraudsters have proven elusive in the courts; on the other hand, penalties handed down by juries to copyright violators, like single mom and Kazaa user Jammie Thomas, have been thrown out by judges for being obscenely excessive.... [This is] a thought-provoking primer on the state of cybercrime."