FBI/DOJ

Justice official: Feds have expanding role in fighting abusive cybercrime

WASHINGTON — Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco delivered the 2017 Cybercrime Symposium keynote address, with the symposium’s topic being “When Cybercrime Turns Violent and Abusive.” Blanco spent much of the speech calling for more federal and private sector involvement in combating cyberbullying, cyber harassment, cyberstalking, sextortion, doxing and non-consensual pornography.

Blanco emphasized how the aforementioned elements correlated with crimes against “Americans’ cherished right to privacy” and how “these forms of abuse have a tremendous and lasting harm upon victims.’” He related the experiences of victims of a serial sextortionist who were so terrified that they could not leave their homes or sleep alone.

“We are not talking about sensitive people taking offense at something they saw online” Blanco stated, “we are talking about targeted attacks designed to hurt people, violate privacy and do very real damage. The Internet has changed the landscape of these crimes significantly.”

The usage of mobile networks and computers have turned crimes into multi-jurisdictional and sometimes even multinational crimes, Blanco said, prompting the DOJ to get further involved in cyber-abuse crimes. Traditionally stalking, harassment and bullying issues had been dealt with by local law enforcement. Yet because of a cybercriminal’s ability to “threaten and extort” the victim using “end-to-end encrypted communication applications” without ever leaving their home and potentially across state and national lines, cyber abuse has necessitated further engagement from the federal government.

“We have prosecuted cases where one defendant victimized hundreds of people he had never met from halfway around the world”, Blanco stated. He later referred to a Pew Research Study that found that four in 10 Americans had personally dealt with online harassment and 62 percent had considered it an important problem.

“For our part, we believe that, as violence and abuse moves online, experts in conducting online investigations must be there too,” with Blanco indicating that DOJ had the unique expertise necessary for engaging in cyber abuse crimes.

Often to properly prosecute cyber-abusers, law enforcement officials need complex electronic evidence, sometimes spread across the globe. However, Blanco pointed out how only cyberstalking was directly proscribed in the federal criminal code. He stated that crimes such as digital sextortion, doxing, and digital harassment did not have explicitly directed federal statues, despite said behavior often violating more general federal statutes.

“When the basis for the extortion in the first place is stolen intimate photos taken from computers, the computer hacking statue comes into play as well. But fact patterns vary from case to case and a statute used to charge one case may not fit the facts in an another.”

Blano closed out the speech by encouraging efforts from both private sector internet companies and federal law makers to better fight and criminalize violent cybercrime. “It is clear from the research and from publicly reported events that both the public’s and many providers’ views on the proper approach to hate, abuse and violence on the internet are evolving” Blanco said.

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