On Wednesday, November 30, 1-3 PM, Canada Centre Senior Fellow in Future Crime Marc Goodman will be presenting a talk titled, The Future of Crime, at the University of Toronto’s George Ignatieff Theatre, Trinity College 15 Devonshire Place Toronto, ON M5S 1H8 (map).

Recently, Marc Goodman was interviewed by Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert. The following is the transcript:

DEIBERT: You use the term “Future Crime” to describe your area of research. How far into the future are we talking about — closer than we think, or far enough to have time to think?

When I refer to future crimes, there is no specific time frame associated with the term. That said, many of the crimes that people would think of as “future crimes” are actually happening today. The general public would be surprised to know that robotics are being used by international organized crime groups and terrorists, but the fact is those technologies are being exploited by non-state actors for ill. The term “future crimes” is meant to broadly describe a general class of crimes which exploit emerging technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, the Internet of Things, location-based services and social data.

DEIBERT: Is law enforcement able to keep up with crime in an age when technology morphs so fast? Are they playing catch up?

Law enforcement is absolutely not keeping up. They are often left far, far behind, depending on the jurisdiction. It depends widely from country to country and even city to city. In short, there is a modern arms race to see who will best leverage technology, the police or the criminals. In most instances, the advantage has gone to the criminals and often significantly so. Take for example common cyber crimes. There are millions of such offenses around the world and yet arrests and prosecutions may only number several hundred-globally!

DEIBERT: Most agencies nowadays claim to be struggling with a lack of resources to police crime in the here-and-now world. How could they balance the two?

There is no doubt that law enforcement budgets are shrinking. In some cities, like San Jose, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, where hundreds of police officers have been laid off leaving only about 1,000 officers to patrol a city of more than one million people. Given these draconian budget reductions, cyber crime has fallen to be a lower priority for police, with most efforts directed at violent crimes such as robbery, murder and sexual assault. The case of San Jose is of course not unique and police agencies around the world are struggling to keep up. Policing cyber crime is expensive, it requires personnel whose training is constantly updated and ever new equipment to examine the thousands of new gadgets released by manufacturers. In my view, there is simply no way the police can handle cyber crime by themselves. New and innovative models of public private partnerships will be required if we are to have any hope of making an impact on newly emerging forms of technology crime.

DEIBERT: Do you believe that police require new powers – like lawful access legislation being proposed here in Canada – to fight future crime, or just new capabilities and resources? Should we worry about ceding too much to police without proper judicial oversight?

I think there will always been an important balance between civil liberties and the judicial authorities necessary in order for law enforcement to carry out their sworn duties. The fact of the matter is much of international law related to search and seizure was written pre-internet. Telephone tap regulations date back 50-100 years and simply put, intellectual property (IP) for switched networking technologies work differently. What worked with landlines from a police law enforcement perspective do not work with regards to internet interception. Moreover, the law has struggled to keep up to understand concepts like theft of virtual goods. In the old days, stealing something such as a vehicle from someone meant that I now a new car and the victim had none. In the age of digital goods, I can often steal your virtual and intellectual property, but you still have it as well. It’s been a challenge for judges and prosecutors to keep up with the rapidly evolving changes in this domain.

DEIBERT: Are police agencies getting better at cooperating across borders when it comes to dealing with cyber and other future crimes? What challenges does the sovereign state system with its world of borders present to law enforcement?

The fact is that there is only limited cooperation across national borders in matters of policing. While this certainly happens in some areas, such as narcotics trafficking, money laundering and even the trade in child sexual abuse images, in many other areas, such as standard financial fraud and cyber crime, cooperation is far from robust. This lack of cooperation and significant transnational institutions capable of dealing with cyber crime in real time means that criminals can ply their trade with near impunity. For a police agency in one country to obtain evidence in another can often require complex legal instruments for cooperation, such as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT). Using an MLAT, it can often take up to two years to get evidence in a case from another nation. Clearly a two year time frame is unworkable when IP logs and criminal evidence disappears in days, if not hours.

DEIBERT: How did you become interested in these areas — what made you move from more conventional cyber crime topics to the future?

I have been working in high tech policing since the early 90s. That means a lot of conferences and professional meetings on the “problem of cyber crime.” After a few decades of going to meetings where people spent a lot of time fretting about the problems of today, or as was often the case on the crimes of yesterday, it dawned on me that there was little if any proactive crime solving being discussed. All cyber crime conferences end on the same note: we need more cooperation, we need more money and we need more training, but few, if any, efforts actually operationalize these observations. Moreover, it is clear to me that crime is progressing way more quickly than law enforcement can keep up. To that end, we need to look over the horizon to see what is coming next so that we can prevent future threats, rather than merely investigating retrospectively after the harm had already occurred.