By Muthoga Kioni (Published in the EAStandard 30th July 2008)
We are slowly & inexplicably getting more dependent on technology. It is difficult to imagine spending a day without the mobile phone, the computer, the PDA or any other gadgets that keeps you ‘online’.
The benefits we accrue from using and applying technology in our lives are substantial. They include enhanced career productivity, seamless and cheaper communication and ubiquitous financial transactions among many others. The flip side of this technological progress is that cyber crime has followed in its wake. Cyber crime is slowly pervading our lives. We witnessed a prelude of things to come when the Kamiti mobile phone racket was recently exposed.
What is cyber crime? It generally encompasses any criminal act dealing with computers, networks and related devices. This is where a computer, or mobile phone, is either an object of a crime, an instrument used to commit a crime, or a repository of evidence related to a crime. Examples of cyber crimes include identity theft, credit card account theft, hate crimes, internet fraud, child pornography, software piracy, intellectual property theft and others. Cyber crime also includes traditional crimes that are conducted through the internet.
It is a common practice for law enforcement agencies to concentrate and specialize on a certain crime genre, such as homicide, sex offences, fraud, kidnapping and bank robberies. Whereas some crimes warrant this specialization others do not, for example burglary. This specialization and classification is usually reserved for the ‘serious’ crimes and cyber crime has gained such notoriety that it currently falls under the category of serious crimes.
One would naturally ask, “What has forced this focus on the cyber world by criminals and law authorities?” Beyond the commonly reported computer criminal activities like hacking, spamming and phishing, is the burgeoning rate of economic fraud on the internet. Electronic commerce has emerged as a viable alternative to ‘physical’ trading, though fraught with security threats. The global cost of cyber crime has therefore become quite significant. This development is best illustrated by Canada which has one of the largest e-commerce economies in the world. The volume of sales generated by e-commerce in the whole of Canada during 2005 was in the order of $39.2 billion worth of goods. Cyber crime’s threat and impact should therefore be appreciated in both economic and social contexts.
To counter this threat police forces around the world have established specialized computer crime units. High Tech Crime Units or Cyber Crime Divisions are now considered essential elements of any national police force and Kenya is not exempt. These units however need guidelines and regulations to direct them in their investigations, just as there are guidelines and legislative frameworks for investigating and prosecuting other serious crimes.
Various countries have also introduced legislation that directly deals with cyber crime while others have reformed and modified their existing criminal laws to include this emerging crime. However many countries, Kenya included, do not have adequate legislation that addresses this vice. Cyber crime laws are necessary because they protect certain rights and assets such as privacy by rendering illegal the interception and unauthorized access to digital data and resources privately owned.
Evidence indicates that business, their customers and the public at large need to better appreciate the high cost of cyber crime and adopt the necessary precautionary measures into their online activities. It is also clear that the prevalent context indicates that our local law enforcement agents need to redouble their efforts in countering this ‘new’ crime.