Law Enforcement Challenges in Online Environments

Law enforcement challenges, cyber stalking, exploitation, obscenity, online information technology, possible solutions in criminal justice system
Close-up of a users’ typing on a laptop keyboard. Law enforcement agencies must overcome challenges in addressing cyber stalking, exploitation, obscenity, and various cyber crimes through international cooperation. (Photo by Michael Dolejš; Public Domain)

Illegal online activities, such as identity theft, cyberstalking, exploitation, and obscenity are a concern in law enforcement agencies because of the difficulty of enforcement in online environments. Issues arise because the online environment involves various sociopolitical and legal systems and networks. As a result, law enforcement agencies are limited because of existing barriers associated with the legal and technological aspects of online activities. Law enforcers need to go through or overcome these barriers to effectively address illegal online activities.

Monitoring the Internet

One of the main challenges facing law enforcement agencies in the investigation of online exploitation and obscenity, and cyber stalking is the fact that these activities occur in an environment that is difficult to effectively and accurately monitor in terms of the actual activities of individual online users. The technological barriers associated with monitoring online activity include the hardware and software protective systems that people use to prevent unauthorized access to personal data through the Internet. For example, encryption of online transmissions prevents monitoring by law enforcement agencies.

Individuals and organizations need to protect their information, especially personal or proprietary information. However, the information technologies used to protect their information also protect, to some degree, illegal activities, such as cyber stalking, obscenity, and exploitation. Thus, protective technologies can conceal illegal online activities from monitoring by law enforcement agencies.

Limits Based on Privacy Protections

Legal or regulatory protections for personal privacy also present barriers to law enforcement in online environments. These laws or regulations prohibit government actions that violate privacy. Governments around the world are increasingly protecting personal privacy. Also, business organizations provide privacy protections for their customers. For example, companies like Apple and Microsoft have consumer privacy protection guarantees in their online service contracts, just as these companies are also bound by law to protect consumer privacy.

Because of privacy protections, law enforcement agencies are essentially barred from readily accessing personal information in their efforts for monitoring and identifying illegal online activities. Thus, agencies need to develop and implement innovative strategies to enforce the law without violating privacy. Still, considering the sensitive nature of information related to exploitation, cyberstalking, and obscenity, arriving at effective strategies may prove to be difficult.

Overlapping Jurisdictions in Online Law Enforcement

Overlapping jurisdictions result from the fact that the online environment extends beyond borders. Law enforcement agencies cannot apply the law on illegal online activities involving actors located beyond borders. For example, an illegal online activity could occur between users in New York and users in California. New York law enforcers cannot readily apply the law on the Californian users, and vice versa.

A further complication of online law enforcement is the disparity among laws, regulations, and legal systems. This disparity is especially pronounced at the international level. For instance, American laws on cyber exploitation and identity theft are different from Singaporean laws, European laws, and Argentinian laws. The differences among policies and procedures targeting illegal online activities create barriers to international cooperation and collaboration for addressing cyber stalking, exploitation, obscenity, and various cyber crimes.

Possible Solutions

A possible solution to overcome the issue of overlapping jurisdictions is the establishment of a comprehensive standardized set of policies and procedures or programs shared among different law enforcement agencies in different countries or states. This comprehensive standardization can facilitate effective collaboration among law enforcement agencies to address cyber crime and related illegal online activities. Agencies should have the ability to work together across borders. Collaboration is needed to enforce the law in the online environment.

Law enforcement can benefit from improved cooperation and collaboration through standardization of policies across jurisdictional boundaries. Standardization leads to more accurate knowledge based on shared information. Also, law enforcers can experience faster processing of cases and, thus, more effective tactics in addressing cyberstalking, exploitation, obscenity, and other illegal online activities. Many countries already have some form of such standardization and cooperation, but further development and cooperation is needed.


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