/>
X
Government

Are virtual crimes against the law?

Virtual and real worlds are colliding, and not necessarily in a good way. Second Life, a popular online fantasy world, now has crime and it's not virtual law enforcement that is looking into the situations, reports the Washington PostPolice in Belgium and Germany are looking into crimes that been committed by "avatars" or virtual chaacters.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

Virtual and real worlds are colliding, and not necessarily in a good way. Second Life, a popular online fantasy world, now has crime and it's not virtual law enforcement that is looking into the situations, reports the Washington Post

Police in Belgium and Germany are looking into crimes that been committed by "avatars" or virtual chaacters. One avatar in Belgium has law enforcement there looking into an alleged rape, and German police received pictures of an animated child character engaging in simulated sex with an animated adult figure. The latter could violate German laws against child pornography, prosecutors said.

"People have an interest in their property and the integrity of their person. But in virtual reality, these interests are not tangible but built from intangible data and software," said Greg Lastowka, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law at Camden in New Jersey.

Some crimes relating to virtual activities clearly violate the law, like trafficking in stolen credit card numbers, he said. But laws against virtual rape and child-pornography get into uncharted waters.

Second Life isn't meant for underage users, but most of the space on Second Life isn't taken up with sordid goings on. Fifteen percent of the properties on the site have been voluntarily flagged by their residents as having mature material.

"This is the double-edged sword of the wonderful creativity in Second Life," said Julian Dibbell, a prominent commentator on digital culture.

One user found herself the unwilling neighbor of an especially sordid underage sex club.

"Tons of men would drop in looking for sex with little girls and boys. I abhorred the club," wrote the user on a Second Life blog under the avatar name Anna Valeeva. She even tried to evict the club by buying their land, she wrote.

After the German incident, Linden Labs, creators of Second Life, condemned the virtual depictions of child pornography, and banned two participants in the incident, a 54-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman, from Second Life.

Some Second Life users objected on the blog that Linden Labs had gone too far.

"Excuse me. You banned two residents, both mature, who did a little role-playing? No children, I repeat no children, were harmed or even involved in that act," protested another user on the Second Life blog. "Since when is fantasy against the fricking law?"

Editorial standards