Wherever people gather, there will be crime and the internet is no different. But we shouldn't exaggerate the risks, writes Electronic Frontiers Australia's Colin Jacobs.
A crime-fighter's job is never done. By the time you've solved one crime, two other crims have found a new and even more despicable way to make a dishonest living. So it's not surprising that this endless task might start to colour your outlook on life.
A case in point is the Australian Federal Police's submission
to the Parliament's Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, reported in The Australian
yesterday. The AFP apparently view the National Broadband Network with some trepidation. "The inherent risk of the NBN is that it could facilitate the continual growth and sophistication of online criminal syndicates' ability to commit cyber offences against online systems due to the attractiveness of the increased speed," they wrote in their submission.
When your job involves treating the internet as "a veil for a diverse array of criminality", it's easy to see why the advent of the NBN might cause some alarm. Think of what the criminals could do with all that extra bandwidth -- it will "result in increased bandwidth available for committing or facilitating computer offences".
Solving and preventing crime is, certainly, easier in a simpler and slower world. The AFP are probably right in their belief that the NBN will bring new opportunities for crooks. New and complex services will proliferate, more transactions and commerce will occur online, and international boundaries will blur even further. Communications will become more difficult to trace. To the enterprising fraudster, hacker, or even child p-rnographer, the NBN will be a boon.
But, of course, road-building projects are not scuppered because they will enable thieves to make faster getaways. Nevertheless, similar arguments have been advanced and zealously pursued by industry and law enforcement in the past.
Famously, the introduction video cassette recorder was violently opposed by the movie industry on the grounds that it could be used for copying movies. While the legitimate uses far outweigh the criminal ones, the industry could only see the latter, and if they had had their way would have cut themselves off from the cash-cow that was to be home video sales.
The controversy around consumer secrecy tools such as "Pretty Good Privacy" (PGP) email encryption was another case in point. When privacy can be ensured, everybody benefits as communication within organisations becomes more flexible, commerce becomes more secure, and oppression becomes more difficult. As a side effect, law enforcement has a more difficult time intercepting the communications of criminals. This may be regrettable, but it's hardly a reason to deny the benefits to the rest of society. Nevertheless, US agencies had the software classified as a munition in order to ban its export, and the government attempted to mandate the inclusion of "back-door" mechanisms for snooping.
The NBN, of course, is merely an Australian initiative. Even if we were allowed to continue lagging behind, the world will move on and cyber crime will continue to affect us. With or without the NBN, as the police note, most criminal activity is outside of Australian jurisdictions. In that light, the NBN could be seen as a help rather than a hindrance. New technologies, when cleverly exploited, can help police work as much as criminal enterprises. Even the AFP should benefit from the NBN's increased bandwidth and information sharing possibilities.
Wherever people gather, there will be crime and the internet is no different. But we shouldn't exaggerate the risks. The NBN is a necessary piece of infrastructure. If the getaway cars are getting faster, the police will have no choice but to keep up.