New wave of cybercrime

The Internet lends itself to being used for a wide range of criminal activities. This can include financial fraud, intimidation, racism or any other criminal activity carried out via the Internet. In Ireland what is unlawful offline is unlawful online. A combination of responses and the co-operation of legislators, law enforcement, schools, and parents are essential to combat cybercrime.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland recently called on the government to ratify an International Convention against Cybercrime, in an effort to ensure the protection of human rights online and to clamp down on online abuse.

The Criminal Justice Act 2011 was enacted in Ireland with the aim of giving An Garda Síochána wider powers to help investigate such cyber offences and this has been of particular importance in the area of white collar crime since the economic downturn.

Cybercrime falls increasingly within the domain of organised criminal activity with most attacks attributed to financially motivated organised crime gangs. While resources needed by businesses to safeguard their IT systems have increased substantially, more than 440 businesses in Ireland in 2011 were victims of cybercrime with most attacks involving websites being hijacked for phishing scams. Hacking offences can be difficult to identify when the hacker's intention is to remain unidentified.

Under the 2011 Act the Gardai may apply to a District Court Judge for an order to make available particular documentation or in relation to the provision of information for the purposes of the investigation. Failure to provide passwords is now an offence and can be punished by a fine or prison term.

The Act introduces a range of powers to assist in the investigation of such offences. The Minister for Justice may, by order, specify as a relevant offence, any arrestable offence relating to criminal activity involving the use of electronic communication networks and IT systems.

The Act allows for certain reasonable presumptions to be made in the context of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 regarding the origin of documentation. An assumption can now be drawn by the courts that the individual in possession of user credentials was the same person who carried out acts on a computer using those credentials. It is a matter for the defence to demonstrate otherwise.

Under the Act it is an offence for a person to withhold information which may be of assistance in preventing the commission of an offence or securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any person and the person fails without reasonable cause to disclose the information to the Gardaí. This offence carries a fine of up to €5,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment on summary conviction and an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years on indictment, thereby creating for the first time a specific obligation on individuals to report relevant information.

It is evident therefore that the 2011 Act has certainly made advances in the area of cybercrime crackdown. Cybercrime is big business internationally however and every step is required to combat it.

While Ireland signed the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime in 2002, no legislation for ratification has been introduced. That's an inadequate response in the face of a growing international problem.

Marguerite Fitzgerald is a Solicitor in the firm of Mannix & Company, Solicitors, 12 Castle Street, Tralee. Phone 066 7125011. Email



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