Playing in the Dark: How Online Games Provide Shelter for Criminal Organizations in the Surveillance Age?


The “architecture of the Internet also lends itself to vulnerabilities and makes it more difficult to wiretap” on a manageable scale. Expanding surveillance programs like CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) to the Internet would consequently “require a different and more complicated protocol, which would create serious security problems.” Furthermore, because “[t]he Internet is easier to undermine than a telephone network due to its ‘flexibility and dynamism,'” incorporating means for surveying its use would “build security vulnerabilities into the communication protocols.” Attempts to add similar features in the past have “resulted in new, easily exploited security flaws rather than better law enforcement access.”

Moreover, Internet surveillance would likely cost a significant amount of money, much of which would be foisted upon online companies themselves. Consequently, not only would expanded surveillance lead to a “technology and security headache,” but the “hassles of implementation” and “the investigative burden and costs will shift to providers.”

Despite those concerns, however, online surveillance might be less costly and more effective than traditional wiretapping. Online surveillance allows for large quantities of data to be “gathered at minimal cost, either as it is produced or at some time later.” Additionally, though the development of computerized surveillance systems may be difficult, once created, they “may be duplicated at a fraction of the cost.” Further, online surveillance potentially makes identifying users easier because the content discovered often includes identifying information, like IP addresses. Finally, electronic surveillance may prove efficient for law enforcement because it does not require “contemporaneous listening.” Unlike traditional wiretapping, where agents listen to conversations live and stop recording if the conversations do not contain criminal content, electronic surveillance seems to require only “after-the-fact filtering,” which eliminates the need to have an agent monitor communications in real time. Thus, because online surveillance “offers cheaper, richer, and more reliable information with less risk,” its use might be more effective than other evidence-gathering techniques, especially “to the extent that law enforcement agents [can] focus their efforts on a particular person who spends time online.”

PLAYING IN THE DARK by Mathew Ruskin

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