Broken Windows and e-crime

Earlier this week I attended the ISPA Parliamentary Advisory Forum on e-crime reduction in Westminster. It was an interesting event. There was nothing really new to hear, but the discussions reflected a growing understanding and maturity about the nature of e-crime and how it needs to be tackled.

Most e-crime escapes the traditional radar of law enforcement because it’s small and difficult to categorize. But ignoring it can send out a damaging signal to both citizens and criminals. The Right Honorable Alun Michael MP gets it right when he draws a comparison with the “broken windows” theory, which helped reduce crime in New York City. The concept is simple: tackling small, visible crimes builds confidence in the environment and deters local criminals. Some pundits have questioned whether this theory was the primary reason for the sudden drop in crime in New York. But they miss the point. The theory makes sense, and research has shown that it works in other environments. 

The difficulty of course is how to implement this in cyberspace. Lots of small crimes are difficult to police. And some jurisdictions offer safe havens for criminals. You can also argue that excessive citizen confidence is a dangerous thing, as citizens already take rather too many risks in cyberspace. But some actions are clear. Education and engagement of a broader community of stakeholders are key enablers for tackling e-crime. Better visibility of small crimes will also enable patterns to be spotted and repeated attempts packaged into bigger cases for investigation. In fact, whatever your views on broken windows, it’s clear that the solution to e-crime lies as much with the community as the authorities.