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If reporting from The Age newspaper is to be believed, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner, Mick Keelty, briefed a Parliamentary Inquiry into the future impact of organised crime that Australians would be facing the threat of part-robot humans involved in organised crime in the future.

Without access to the transcripts from the Inquiry, it is difficult to determine exactly what the Commissioner exactly did say. Taken on face value, the report has begun receiving attention from security-focused sites and blogs, not a lot of it favourable to the Commissioner's position.

So, what is it that the Commissioner might have said? If the Inquiry that is mentioned is the Inquiry into the future impact of serious and organised crime on Australian society, then there is no record of the transcript available for the session held on July 5, but there is a record of him having provided a brief to the Inquiry.

Looking at the submission that the AFP made to the above Inquiry, there are elements which suggest that the Commissioner may have used it as a springboard for his comments to the Inquiry.

Further research also turns up the transcript of the Commissioner's speech delivered to the Pearls in Policing Conference, delivered on June 11.

Combining these two sources, the seemingly outrageous claims made in the article in The Age seem to have a valid background in previous material published by the AFP.

It is accepted that organised crime groups are making efficient and effective use of technological advances to enhance their own activities. The recent spate of Mpack website infections can be linked back to suspected East European organised crime groups that have previously been active in other online criminal activity, and it is well known that many other organised crime groups maintain an active online activity base.

Whether or not viable cloning and robotic integration will take place within 20-30 years is more speculation than informed policing. There are enough dissenting voices out there that almost any position can be taken on where human cloning and robotic integration will end up, and it will appear to be a valid claim.

Unfortunately, the Commissioner seems to come across as someone whose advisors have read too many press releases and dubious whitepapers and not watched enough 'Ghost in the Shell' to recognise where their ideas have been previously cleanly laid out and elaborated in an easily digestible format (especially the concept of a digital copy of an individual's brain - wrongly attributed to Second Life). If we see the AFP renamed to Section 9, then we will know where they have been looking for inspiration.

Citing the presence of scams affecting online environments such as Second Life (it helps if the correct names and terminology are used for elements of the environment), the Commissioner suggests that some of these activities could be illegal, but difficult to track, monitor and enforce.

The answer to this is surprisingly simple, even more so than the efforts being put into trapping criminals who are active through other online communication channels. Second Life, World of Warcraft, EvE Online, and every other form of online community and virtual world can all be boiled down to the following simple facts:

  • Individuals implement a persona when they become part of an online community
  • Individuals may use this persona to engage in actual, attempted, or simulated criminal acts. Intent now becomes an important factor.
  • It can be tracked. Information will be present on the victim's system, the perpetrator's system, and more than likely the servers providing the service. If those servers are in countries where laws and their application are different, then other existing laws can come into effect. There is precedent for applying national or state law to online services that are provided within relevant political boundaries, but it is fraught with loopholes and simple bypass mechanisms - something that law enforcement needs to be aware of, especially given that there will always exist ways around the online enforcement of legislation.

On the positive side, the Commissioner did acknowledge that the AFP is really in the position of playing catch up in a number of these technical fields. He acknowledged that the AFP does not currently maintain the technical expertise to fully understand the legal and policing ramifications of different technological activity, and will need to enhance their interaction with industry to strengthen their future position.

13 July 2007

This article originally appeared at Sûnnet Beskerming

© 2007 Sûnnet Beskerming Pty. Ltd

SûnnetBeskerming is an independent Information Security firm operating from the antipodes. Specialising in the gap between threat emergence and vendor response, Sûnnet Beskerming provides global reach with a local touch.

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