Top cop: Strap Wi-Fi jammers to teen web crims as punishment

Chief Superintendents' Association prez opens mouth, inserts foot

A group of hipster teens excludes the onlooker. Photo by shutterstock
Ermegerd, Jason, ew! You've got an ankle thing. We're Instagramming. Stay away from us.

+Comment The president of top cops’ trade union the Police Superintendents’ Association (PSA) has suggested that teens convicted of computer-based crimes should be fitted with ankle-mounted Wi-Fi jammers.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph over the weekend, Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas said: “If you have got a 16-year-old who has hacked into your account and stolen your identity, this is a 21st century crime, so we ought to have a 21st century methodology to address it.”

He continued: “This could be introduced as part of community sentencing, so that the 16-year-old does not have access to the internet or Wi-Fi for a period and then in conjunction they have to do some sort of traditional work in the community.”

The Register contacted the PSA to verify that Chf Supt Thomas did say that teen cyber-crims should have “electronic jammers” fitted in the same way as ankle tags are fitted to some criminals released early from prison, as he was paraphrased as having said by the Telegraph, and a spokesman for the trade union confirmed the interview was accurate.

The senior police officer was said, by the paper, to have accepted the suggestion that there are practical and human rights problems with strapping Wi-Fi jammers to children, but he doubled down by insisting the Ministry of Justice considers the plan.

"Policing and the criminal justice system are dealing with crimes that didn’t exist even a few years ago,” added the PSA spokesman to The Register. “The [police] service needs to work with the technology industry to help it solve problems with cyber crime and criminality that is carried out or enabled by new or evolving technology. The intention with this example is not to champion a particular technology or solution, but to start a debate that stimulates ideas and to have a discussion about what works."

It was suggested that Chf Supt Thomas’ comments were put forward from the perspective of someone used to catching physical criminals such as burglars and robbers, rather than applying the criminal law to young people using smartphones.

Idiotic? Yes. There is a discussion to be had here, though

Strapping Wi-Fi jammers to criminal teens is a bloody stupid idea and deserves nothing more than brief condemnation and moving on. It’s completely unrealistic in every way and anyone seriously making the suggestion should probably be removed from any positions of power or influence they hold, at least until they can be made to understand why it is a stupid idea.

For typical teen stupidity – from calling each other names to guessing social media account passwords and impersonating each other, typically as a thoughtless childish prank rather than as what the adult world would see as identity theft – there has to be a better solution than allowing heavy-handed police constables, who are primarily trained and conditioned to deal with violent and abusive criminals, to go around arresting naughty kids and flinging them into the cells.

Yes, there is a growing problem of ever-younger script kiddies and black hat hacker collectives using skilled teenagers to break into government and business networks, as the bust of LulzSec revealed.

The law, however, is a very blunt instrument, and something other than arrests followed by months of intentionally stress-inducing faff factor, using the process as the punishment, followed by a symbolic suspended prison sentence, is needed in order to deal with day-to-day smartphone "crimes" committed by under-18s. ®

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