AU crime-fighters want real-world rules brought online

The Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC) is trying to bring the rules of the "physical world" to the online environment in its international joint initiative to put police in Internet chat-rooms, said Alastair MacGibbon, the body's director.MacGibbon told ZDNet Australia  that the initiative is designed to make the general public see Internet chat-rooms as a public place as to uphold the laws that are mandated in physical human interaction.

The Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC) is trying to bring the rules of the "physical world" to the online environment in its international joint initiative to put police in Internet chat-rooms, said Alastair MacGibbon, the body's director.

MacGibbon told ZDNet Australia  that the initiative is designed to make the general public see Internet chat-rooms as a public place as to uphold the laws that are mandated in physical human interaction.

The formation of the International Virtual Global Taskforce was announced following a three-day summit in London last week, with its intention being to make the Internet a safer place for children.

The taskforce was initially established by Britain's National Crime Squad (NCS), and now comprises the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the United States FBI and its Homeland Securities department along with the AHTCC.

MacGibbon described the move as a collaborative approach to a global problem.

"We have come together in a commitment to discover ways of discouraging sex-offenders, to deter possible offenders and to disrupt the groups of people that do exist from engaging in these activities. We also need to educate the parents and families of the danger," said MacGibbon.

"The idea behind the global task force is of mutual responsibility for this problem," he adds.

Although MacGibbon could not divulge the details of the initiative's methodology, as the program is still in its infancy, he said a "24/7 police presence online will be involved in the actualisation of the initiative".

"Most likely what will happen is that the task being online will rotate through the members of the taskforce. As the sun goes down on one the other will take over," he said.

However, MacGibbon asserts that the assessment or investigation of any offenders will fall to the country in which the suspect is located.

MacGibbon said behaviour that will be deemed inappropriate will be judged on a case to case basis in each of the various jurisdiction, but activities that are to be seen as "grooming" or "procuring" children for sex or the sharing of child pornography will not be tolerated.

"Ultimately it will depend on the jurisdiction and determinations of the laws in the different countries," he said. "Some cases may not go as far as investigation. The simple cases of improper behaviour may just require a warning."

"It's about weighing up the offence and the crimes to getting an appropriate police response as in other physical crimes. It's the same philosophy online."

Yet, MacGibbon admits that the initiative will not eliminate the problem, instead he said it's the first step in "recognising a problem of global proportion".

"I think you need to be realistic about law enforcement in an online environment. It's going to be a long march," he said. "But I think if we can save one child from being abused or deter one person from committing an offence then it's an activity worth doing."

Child sex offences have been facilitated by information and communication technologies, said MacGibbon, by giving offenders access to children away from their parents and a channel to swap child pornography. However, he said this initiative address the issue by educating users on what behaviour is acceptable in the online world.

"Part of the message that we're trying to give to parents or families is that online conversation should be compared to that in the physical world," MacGibbon said. He illustrates the point by saying that parents wouldn't tolerate strangers having inappropriate conversation with their children in the "physical world" and therefore shouldn't tolerate it online.

MacGibbon said the initiative will continue to evolve as the problem dictates.

"There is no silver bullet to this crime or any crime, but you need to start somewhere. There's a very realistic agenda that we will adhere to as to improve the global response," he said. "But it will be measured in terms of years."