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Home > Legal Updates, Supervision > Both Sides of Atlantic Take Aim at Offender Risk In Cyberspace

Both Sides of Atlantic Take Aim at Offender Risk In Cyberspace

November 30th, 2011

Two news events occurred within the last week that warrant notice.  The first was the announcement by the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) magazine Perspectives- Fall 2011 of the Issue Paper, ”Managing the Risks Posed by Offender Computer Use.” The second was the announcement that Britain was unveiling a new strategy to battle online threats.  Both announcements touch specifically on managing offender computer use. Let’s deal with the first announcement. 

APPA Issue Paper

APPA develops issue papers on topics currently facing community corrections. These papers outline the concerns or considerations of a particular topic in a generally neutral fashion. The APPA, though its Technology Committee, has been wrestling with a cyber-supervision issue paper for well over a year (I know, as I was intimately involved in the process).  The APPA Board of Directors approved the issue paper in September 2011. It was formally announced in the Perspectives last week.  The result is a ten page document which identifies  five components to good computer management in the supervision of people on probation, parole or supervised release. The components are: 1) Obtaining accurate and up-to-date knowledge about what computers a supervisee has or may use; 2) Deciding how to monitor the computer or Internet use (random searches or installing monitoring software); 3) Encouraging venturing beyond the traditional “brick and mortar” world into cyberspace itself by going on-line to find out what offenders are doing on social networking sites and the Internet;  4)  Incorporating complementary technologies, such as GPS monitoring and polygraph evaluations for some high risk cases to augment  computer management; and 5) Requiring officers continue to incorporate field visits, to residences, employment sites, schools and other relevant locations as part of computer management. The paper also discusses the pros and cons of computer searches vs. computer monitoring, noting the ideal approach is to integrate both to provide effective cyber-risk management. Although the paper notes the high percentage of cases involving sex offenders, the discussion is not limited to just supervising sex offenders. It specifically notes all manner of criminal and non-compliance behavior is being committed by offenders using advanced technology and community corrections needs to come to terms with this reality.  Bill Burrell, editor of the Perspectives notes:

With the proliferation of digital technology through our lives, it has become increasingly difficult and impractical to prohibit the use of computers and other digital devices by offenders. Managing the risks falls to probation and parole officers, and it is incumbent upon us to throughly understand and fully exploit the potential of digital technology to monitor and manage offender use of computers and related technology.” (p. 10)

UK Cyber Security Strategy

Almost on que was the announcement  by United Kingdom of its new cyber strategy called  The UK Cyber Security Strategy Protecting and Promoting the UK in a Digital World.  Included in this cyber stragey was the increased use of sanctions, including Internet restrictions against offenders involved in flash mobs or other acts where the Internet or social networking sites were used to cause havoc.  The report notes in part:

4.27 The Government will also work to ensure that law enforcement agencies and the judiciary are aware of the additional powers the courts already have to protect the public when there is strong reason to believe someone is likely to commit further serious cyber crime offences. Computer use may be monitored or restricted under licence conditions when an offender is released, or through a Serious Crime Prevention Order (under the Serious Crime Act 2007). For example an internet fraudster can be prevented from offering goods for sale online. Other orders which may include restrictions on internet use are used to protect the public or victims in cases of sexual offences, harassment and anti-social behaviour. Through guidance we will encourage the judicial system to consider these cyber-relevant sanctions for cyber offences wherever appropriate.

4.28 In addition, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office will consider and scope the development of a new way of enforcing these orders, using ‘cyber-tags’ which are triggered by the offender breaching the conditions that have been put on their internet use, and which will automatically inform the police or probation service. If the approach shows promise we will look at expanding cyber-sanctions to a wider group of offenders.” (p. 30)

So in a nutshell we have a professional organization for community corrections in the United States noting that officers and agencies tasked with supervision need to come to terms with dealing with cyber-risk.  At a the same time the UK comes out with a strategy that expands Internet restrictions beyond prevention orders typical in sex offense cases to include a “wider group of offenders.”  Unless I am missing something sentencing and correctional professionals on both sides of the Atlantic are starting to take seriously the cyber-risk posed by those accused or convicted of crimes.  The question remains is what may develop out of these two “bits” of news. 

You see in the UK much of the monitoring of offender computer use appears to have been done not by probation officers but by law enforcement. (See Elliot, I. A., D. Findlater and T. Hughes. 2010. “A Practice Report: A Review of e-Safety Remote Computer Monitoring for UK Sex Offenders.” Journal of Sexual Aggression. 16(2), 237-248 for a discussion on computer monitoring). But in the U.S. probation and parole officers are doing the monitoring. Sure some agencies rely on law enforcement assistance for computer searches, but monitoring is deployed and reviewed by corrections agencies.

Will the UK continue using law enforcement to monitor offenders during rehabilitation, reintegration, etc. or will they be forced to back track on their efforts over ”big brother” concerns?  Likewise will US correction  agencies embrace 21st Century supervision or will they they advocate for law enforcement taking over a greater role in computer monitoring of these cases?  I doubt that will fly a lot lower in the US than in the UK which has no “First Amendment” concerns.  Maybe the private sector will step into the management role on both sides of the Atlantic as contract agencies offering monitoring service to corrections agencies. The advantage to private sector doing the monitoring is they are not law enforcement but unlike many in corrections, they have the expertise to get the job done. The issue though will be expense. Can they offer a service at a cost that public is willing to pay? 

Personally I see no issue with monitoring computer activities of convicted offenders but there will surely be those who argue that this smacks of “big brother.” I wonder though how these same individuals would feel if these offenders were just kept in prison. Is that a better solution?  What about the rights of  rest of  society which are negatively impacted by cyber-offenders? Don’t they count for something?  We all have to abide by the rules on the roadways, why should the information highway be any different? I think that cyberspace has been allowed to fester with lawlessness for too long without any repercussions to those who think it is their personal playground to stalk, attack, and victimize the rest of us.  The recognition of this fact on both sides of the Atlantic is clear. Equally clear is offender risk management is not going to be the same.  It now is being extended to cyberspace. On that note, where is that cigar I had?

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