|Supervising the cyber-offender: Are you ready?|
|By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist|
Computers are a legitimate tool for offenders trying to become productive members of society. However, technology’s use can dramatically increase the effects of criminal behavior and therefore poses a unique risk to the community. “Traditional offenders” have found the computer to be a highly effective tool in counterfeiting checks and currency that can be readily passed.
Sex offenders, from the safety of their homes, can use a computer to anonymously “groom” numerous children simultaneously for later molestations or distribute their “collections” to hundreds of other offenders, or even to children, with the click of a mouse. Hackers can travel through cyberspace to other states or countries and harness the collective power of hundreds of computers to launch denial of service attacks that can cripple public and private computer networks. These examples demonstrate that probation, parole and pretrial officers must learn to manage the high risk cyber-offender.
Understanding today’s high tech terms is the first step. Frequently, when one considers the term “computer” a desktop or a laptop comes to mind. However, that is not sufficient because it doesn’t consider cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and all the devices that are on the horizon.
A good working definition is found in 18 U.S.C. Section 1030 (e)(1). This federal statute reflects,
The next step, defining the high risk cyber-offender, is somewhat more elusive. Who are these offenders? Is it the delinquent who hacked into the Pentagon or is it the 55-year-old distributing child pornography via the Internet? What about the employee who used her boss’s password to gain entry to the payroll system and had additional checks issued to herself? Are these all high risk cyber-offenders? To find the answer, one needs to consider the following: the offense; the offender’s technical expertise; and past criminal conduct involving computers or similar offenses.
All offenses involving child exploitation should be considered a high risk. Additionally, computer hacking offenses, because of the potential impact they can have on our technologically dependent society, should also be considered for additional scrutiny. Basically any offense, if recommitted, that could cause a substantial harm to the community at large or would be violent in nature should be considered as high risk.
The next factor is determining offender’s technical expertise. The higher the expertise level, the greater likelihood they will be able to overcome the tools you have to manage their computer use or to commit the offense again. For instance, an employee who steals a password from their employer probably does not have the same technical ability of someone who could hack into the system from outside and steal the password.
One also should consider whether or not they have they committed a previous offense with a computer or an offense similar in nature. For instance, someone who counterfeits money on one occasion is a different risk compared to someone with repeat convictions for counterfeiting money and/or checks.
Once you have established that you have a high risk cyber-offender you must decide what tools to use to manage the risk. Are you going to seek conditions that limit or restrict their computer/Internet use? Will you be able to justify such restrictions based upon case law and the circumstances of the case?
If you can’t prohibit or restrict computer/Internet use, what then? How do you manage the risk? Many agencies are relying more and more on the ability to search offender’s computers and/or install monitoring software/hardware. As a result officers must be willing to learn more about the technology to better supervise these offenders.
Several organizations provide such training opportunities for probation, parole, and pretrial officers. Notable examples are SEARCH: The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics and the National White Collar Crime Center. Additionally, the American Probation and Parole Association offers the course “Managing Sex Offenders’ Computer Use.” Joining a professional organization, such as the High Technology Crime Investigation Association provides training and valuable networking opportunities as well.
Finally, the United States Pretrial Services Agency for the Central District of California, in partnership with the Federal Probation & Pretrial Officers Association is holding the National Symposium on Cyber Crime, a three-and-half day program, February 11 to 14, 2008, which will expose officers to many of the skills they will need in managing the high risk cyber-offenders.
It is clear that technology has benefited society in so many ways. It is equally clear that offenders have found ways to use technology to the detriment of society. Probation, parole, and pretrial officers, like law enforcement previously, are learning that we must not let offenders go unchecked in this new arena of criminal behavior. Community supervision agency managers and administrators must be willing to support their staff in developing and learning these skills to be effective change agents in the future. Otherwise, offenders will continue to increase their technological edge, creating an unacceptable risk to our communities.
Art Bowker is a cyber crime specialist at the U.S. Pretrial and Probation Office, Ohio Northern. He also is First Vice President of High Technology Crime Investigation Association.
Click here for more information on the National Symposium on Cyber Crime or contact Sr. USPSO Roger Pimentel at 213.894.8830.
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