Let’s not beat about the bush here – the House of Lords report on Internet crime includes a lot of nonsense. Once again, parliament has shown it largely fails to understand what the Internet is, how it works and what we do with it.
Here are some gems from the Lords. They say the Internet is now the “playground of criminals”. True there is online crime. But there is a vast amount of offline crime as well. To claim the Internet is a criminal playground is to vastly overplay the impact of online crime. Indeed, belittling the immense positive value of the Internet in this way is verging on the criminal itself.
Then they say Internet users can’t be responsible for their own online security. Why not? I don’t expect the Government to be responsible for my security when I’m in the local lending library, nor when I am in the street. Indeed, everywhere you look these days you are told that you are parking here, or using facilities there, on your own terms and that the owners cannot be held liable for anything nasty that happens to you or your property.
Suggesting that Internet Service Providers can be held responsible for online crime, is a bit like saying your postie is responsible for the contents of the letters you receive. Or that the Ministry of Transport, as a provider of the road network, is responsible for car crime.
So what does this Lords committee then suggest? That we should have a central organisation responsible for dealing with online crime. This supposes, of course, that online criminals only use online facilities to commit their nasties. We know that’s not the case – a significant slice of online credit card fraud comes from the theft of physical cards and from stealing receipts from waste bins. So how would a central “Internet crime agency” deal with the offline aspects of crime? They would inevitably tread on the toes of the detectives who work in the physical world and before we know it the police would be spending much of their energies deciding which department should do what – leaving the criminals in peace to carry on doing more evil deeds.
So what can we do about this conundrum? Sure, online crime needs tackling; it is harming Internet business and reducing trust in the Internet as a whole. But whatever we do here in the UK, no matter what legislation we pass, the criminals can operate from elsewhere and still commit crimes here, from afar, untouchable.
Here’s my solution. We pass a law saying you can’t become a politician until you have fully taken part in several social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and so on, every day for at least a year. You couldn’t be selected as a candidate unless you were a competent social networker. What would that achieve? It would provide politicians with day to day experience of the online world beyond sending a few emails, looking up some newspaper cuttings and reading research reports. It would make them engage with real people, rather than the political, chattering classes. And it would make them see that there are people within the online world who have useful ideas, indeed answers to tackling issues such as online crime.
Rather than sitting in stuffy committee rooms discussing the Internet in a vacuum of knowledge about it, they should do their discussion online. And if that’s good enough for politicians it should also be good enough for business leaders. Why do so many businesses fail to succeed online? Because so few business leaders actually participate online.