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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Forget State Lines: Criminals Disappear Into Cyber-Space

OTTAWA -- A lawless new frontier opened up by international computer networks has left police powerless to chase "cyber-criminals" on the electronic highway. Canadian police have arrested people distributing child pornography and bestiality on local bulletin boards linked to Internet, the world's largest computer network, connecting more than 25 million users. Police have set up special computer crime units to track rising illicit activities that range from listings of stolen credit card numbers and access codes for satellite dishes to racist hate propaganda. Beside pedophile forums or instructions to build bombs offered in The Terrorist Cookbook, experts suspect networks are being used to sell drugs, deal in stolen goods, gamble and offer commercial scams that used to come door-to-door. Police are overwhelmed by the mountains of data freely available on networks over which they have no jurisdiction because host computers are often located in other countries. They have also run into a legal limbo where no definition exists as to what constitutes possession or distribution of illegal electronic material. "There is no test case for cyber-crime yet," said Toronto Metro police Sergeant Chuck Konkel, who led a raid on 10 houses last October to seize computers and dismantle a pornography distribution bulletin board. Konkel was tipped off by the parent of an 11-year-old boy who accessed the material on his new computer. "This was about the most virulent stuff I have seen," Konkel said. "Hard-core, bestiality, sado-masochism, child porn." Ten people were arrested. Police are now waiting for a court ruling on this and another similar raid in Winnipeg to establish the legal limits for their war on electronic crime. But the foreign source of the pornography will remain outside the grasp of the law until there is international enforcement cooperation, Konkel said. Anonymous re-mailing services compound the problem of tracing illegal material. Internet was recently used to bypass a court-ordered publication ban on the most gruesome sex-slaying trial in Canadian history. A group claiming to be Canadians concerned about freedom of speech based across the border in Buffalo, New York, posted the gory details of the case on bulletin boards. However, the electronic origin of the posting was masked by an anonymous re-mailer in Finland. "You just cannot police Internet because nobody owns it or runs it," said Ottawa police computing expert Constable John Ferguson. "Every police force in the country is in the process of looking at this problem and deciding what to do about it." Canada added computer crime provisions to its Criminal Code in 1985, but its cope was limited and the legislation mainly dealt with the problem of hackers breaking into other people's computers and the electronic transfer of money. Internet had not yet become the mass communication medium it is today, freely linking million of computers worldwide. Defenders of free "cruising" on Internet say it is the largest uncensored form of communication because it escapes the control of governments, who should have no place on it. According to Michael Strangelove, author of a book about advertising on the network: "Internet has thrust us into the post-Gutenberg era."