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Modern Criminal Justice - New Technologies, New Crime, New Challenges

internet information available criminals

During the 1990s increasingly complex communications became available in businesses and homes. New communications networks provided tools for criminals. The growth of the Internet in particular opened new opportunities for criminal activity and created challenges for the criminal justice system.

The first computer-related criminal law in the United States was the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It targeted people interfering with computers and computer networks. Soon the focus changed to the kinds of information available over the Internet. New high-speed techniques were available for gathering, processing, and distributing information on almost any topic. A major consequence was that personal information about individuals became easily accessible. Controlling how this information was used and who used it proved a big challenge.

Concerns over privacy became of utmost importance. The explosion of available information affected copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Copyright laws allowauthors or artists the right to determine how their creations may be used, including how their works are reproduced, distributed, or performed. Trademark laws allow manufacturers to assign a specific identifying symbol to their products, meaning no other business can use that particular symbol. Patent laws grant inventors exclusive rights to operate, produce, or sell their products. Enforcement of these laws, if violated by using the Internet, has been virtually impossible. For example, songs have been freely copied off Internet sites instead of buying the music, which prevents artists from receiving proper royalties. The government has tried to penalize these criminals with fines but new "share" music and free music download sites that help conceal the identity of the downloader are launched everyday.

Other issues for criminal justice involving the Internet include the sale and distribution of child pornography (photos and films of children engaged in sex acts) and adults luring kids through Internet chat rooms into meetings and often into sexual relations. These criminal activities have crossed state and national boundaries. New technology has enabled criminals to operate where no boundaries exist. In the twenty-first century, the criminal justice system struggles to keep pace as it must continually redefine crime and criminals. (See chapter 11 on cyber crime for more information.)

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