POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 13, 2011
Law enforcement and information technology experts urged state lawmakers Tuesday to press for tougher cybercrime laws and to provide resources to make it easier to fight Internet criminals, from sexual predators to identification thieves.
Deputy Honolulu Prosecutor Chris Van Marter, head of the White-Collar Crime Unit, said the lack of retention of cyber-records makes it difficult for law enforcement to track down those who have committed cybercrimes. In some instances, deleted text messages can be wiped clean by a provider within 48 hours, making it impossible for investigators to see any "paper" trail.
That's especially difficult when criminals use easily available "spoofing" software that could pretend to be originating from one, ostensibly trusted Internet source when it is coming from someone trying to commit fraud or another cybercrime.
Cellphone and Internet service providers are not required to retain electronic records including text messages and emails. A bill pending before Congress would require the companies to preserve such information for at least two years, Van Marter said. He urged state lawmakers to push for its passage.
While the bill has received bipartisan support, it has fallen by the wayside as congressional leaders deal with more pressing economic concerns, Van Marter said.
He also urged the Legislature to enact penalties against Internet criminals that are as harsh as those against identity theft criminals, noting that Internet crimes are on the uptick.
From 1984 to 2004, Honolulu prosecutors prosecuted fewer than 10 computer-related crimes, he said. In the five-plus years since, the office has prosecuted more than 100, he said.
"Those numbers are just a tiny fraction of the cases that we're seeing," Van Marter said. There are about 200 computer-related crimes reported every month, he said. "I can tell you that very, very few of those cases are investigated, much less prosecuted," he said. Only about 1 in 7 are reported to law enforcement, he said.
Chris Duque, a former Honolulu police detective specializing in white-collar crime who now is a private investigator dealing with cybercrimes, said it is difficult for authorities to track down a cybercriminal. "When I go into cyberspace, I can be anyone I want to be," Duque said.
Computer users need to be reminded constantly of the dangers and the need to protect themselves by installing Internet updated security programs to protect against viruses, spyware, malware and other dangers, Duque said. He also urged computer users to put as little personal information about themselves as possible on personal social media sites.