TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Internet and Civil Liberties?

Re: Internet and Civil Liberties?
21 Mar 2006 11:17:36 -0800

William Warren wrote:

> There has been a lot of press _lately_ because the networks were in
> "Sweeps week", and the local stations were doing their bit to boost
> ratings by sticking to the time-honored TV tradition -

So are you suggesting that crimes involving the Internet are very
rare? If you go back a bit in this newsgroup you'll find lots of
posts about Internet crime, including its use in the abuse of minors.
Are you saying these events are rare?

It is true with TV news (and many newspapers) "if it bleeds it leads".
But the fact is that crime is still a big part of our world, whether
it is sensationalized or not. My local newspaper is reporting credit
card fraud victims among our residents and it is a surprisingly and
distubingly long list. Computer viruses and other forms of sabotage
are no joke or pertty matter. We all have received those emails about
some Nigerian prince or body part enlargement--do you think any of
those claims are real? Someone is writing and sending them out and
pocketing the money. There are destructive anti-social people who
exploit the anonymity of the computer to act out their aggression;
these are the people who write and disseminate viruses, spam, spyware,

> Technical _devices_ may make it easier to produce the forged documents
> needed to steal someone's identity. Technical _weaknesses_ don't make
> it easy to forge someone's identity: in fact, it's much more difficult
> to forge an electronic identity than a paper one. ...

I don't distinguish how the fraud or forgery was executed, whether
someone mainipulated internal bits and bytes or merely stole someone's
logon by peeking over their shoulder. Either way, the computer
becomes a very powerful tool for evil and innocent people will get

My concern in this topic is not only the victims of fraud, but also
innocent people blamed for crimes. I'll discuss this in detail in
another response.

> Innocent people accused of crimes have the same protections they have
> always had -- the truth -- and the truth is that we all do very
> predictable things at very predictable times, in full view of dozens, if
> not hundreds, of witnesses. Innocent people seldom have trouble proving
> that they are what they seem.

I'm glad that you have never been in trouble or ever accused of doing
something wrong. But the real world is not so perfect or nice.
Through DNA testing we have learned that some criminals who proclaimed
innocence were indeed guilty. But we also learned that some weren't
guilty and spent years in prison for crimes they clearly did not
commit. The system is not perfect.

Yes, someone falsely accused will probably (though not always)
eventually be acquitted. But the cost to that person will be
enormous -- loss of all their money on legal fees, loss of job, respect,
family, home, etc.

The power of computers introduces new risks for innocent people to be
blamed ("framed") for crimes committed by others. Computer logs are
used for conviction, but unlike other witnesses, they are silent and
can't be cross examined.

DLR wrote:

> If you're not technically astute, you'd better hire a good lawyer
> quick. But at the same time it is getting to be like the situation
> with money with cocaine residue on it. For a while in the 80s it was
> considered strong evidence of trafficking if you had 20s with cocaine
> traces on it. Then someone showed that most of the money in
> possession of police, judges, court officials, people on the street,
> and most all money in major cities and soon the entire country had
> traces on it.

Actually, I thought recently that the courts ruled that such tainted
currency was indeed admissable -- they found it on someone suspected
of drug dealing.

It is frightening. Modern science can detect extremely miniscule
traces of substances. Ok, I'm now sitting in a public library chair.
Isn't there a heck of a good chance that a strand of hair from the
prior patron was left on the chair and now is on me? I certainly
think so since I find such strands occassionally. Further, I notice
some cat hair I brought in gets left on the chair and I have to sweep
it off. Now a library is a random place; presumably the patron after
me won't turn up dead with me as a suspect. But what about the
workplace where we do sit in each other's chairs and desks routinely
to work together? If something happened to any of my co-workers, odds
are high you will find mine hair or other fluids (suppose I sneezed)
on that other person, maybe even their skin.

> Most all Internet fraud and other illegal activity is now based on
> bogus identities. Any police force of any size who deals with this
> knows it and deals with it appropriately. And most local police (at
> least here in NC) call in the state guys for this type of stuff as
> they have the knowledge to deal with it. Sheriff Bubba doesn't go
> after much related to computers.

I am not confident about this. I know too many "Sheriff Bubbas" who
think they're computer experts when they're not.

> Not to say people will not get falsely accused, but it should be a
> minor part of the problem as time goes on.

Note that one troubling social issue today is the abuse of minors
through meetings and illegal photograph distribution. The police are
going after this very aggressively with strong support by the public.
(See other posts on this topic in this newsgroup). Anyway, a
participant in this stuff has a motivation to use someone else's
identity and e-account for their purposes.

Here are scenarios I am concerned about, based on news media reports.
Obviously they don't happen every day, but they have happened.

1) Stolen e-account information (taken by looking over shoulder or
guessing a password or via spyware):

a) Use the stolen account to fraudulently buy goods and services.
b) Use the stolen account to send and receive illegal porn (per
c) Create new accounts.

2) Forged e-account information: I doubt it is that hard to forge
someone's name and account over the 'net. Spammers cover the tracks
in various ways, such as finding an unprotected server (apparently
there are a great many) and using it is a relay station. The risks
are that above.

3) Civil liberties -- Loss of privacy: Because of the interest in
illegal porn and assignation activities, there is more desire to
monitor otherwise private internet use. This public library computer
is now monitored for that reason. How far will this monitoring and
searchse go? Will ISPs automatically and secretly report whenever of
their clients access a website or newsgroup that is deemed "illegal"?
Does the mere access of such sites constitute a crime? There was a
100 year old girls' college named "Beaver College". Although the name
drew some snickers over the years, it wasn't a problem. But with the
Internet, the alternate meaning of "beaver" triggered protectors and
the college found itself hidden with decreasing applications. They
had to rename themselves. Once they did applications went back up.

4) False identify: A big use these days of the Internet is to set up
social meetings. There are matchmaker websites and chat rooms. But
sometimes someone lies about who they are. There have been several
cases reported where a minor claimed to be an adult, had ID (fake) and
travelled to see a real adult. The real adult ended up being
convicted for illegal activity. As posted in the other threads, there
are minors today intentionally doing just that. Plenty of 16 y/o
could easily pass as an 18 y/o college student.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: A particularly odd instance of this
took place for several years on : a middle-age
gentleman had various online profiles of himself as older teenage
_female_ members, none of whom actually existed. He seemed to
'specialize' in younger, more naive, less sophisticated males with
whom he wished to have a homosexual relationship, but without telling
them that at first. He would chat with them, flirt with these guys,
and because they were sort of insecure anyway, easily engage the guys
in chatting on a regular basis, never saying a word about his _true_
intentions. As the victims got more and more interested in a possible
meeting with their new 'female friend' the hints would begin to issue

Meet at a certain time and place, etc, but always with a
condition attached: The condition involved 'dealing with this older
guy who has been hassling me a lot, following me around, etc.' 'Can
you (new boy friend) help me get rid of this old guy who is always
making trouble?' 'If you can do that for me, then I guess I can agree
to meet you also'. Time and again, as reports later reached Yahoo,
these sort of naive guys were agreeing to meet (allegedly to get rid
of the interloper and trouble maker) in some deserted place -- where
in fact the 'troublemaker' or 'stalker' was the original guy. The
newer (and more naive guy) wound up getting sexually molested, or
raped (at worst) or at the very least humiliated. Apparently the
_sick impersonator_ of a female pulled this off many hundreds of
times, Yahoo doing nothing to stop it, and generally the guys were to
embarassed by what had happened to them sexually to ever discuss it
again, until some were questioned at length by informal groups of
investigators working to 'clean up Yahoo Chat'. PAT]

5) Malicious secret storage: People have been arrested for having
illegal porn photos on their computer. In some cases it was found that
the material was placed there by someone with malicious intent (similar
to planting drugs in someone's purse). How would the victim of such an
attack prove their innocence?

Again, I realize these things do not happen every day, but as computers
become more widespread and integrated in our daily lives, the risk of
being in the wrong place at the wrong time increases.

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