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JILT 1997 (3) - Nigel Morris-Cotterill

Neil Barrett's

Digital Crime - Policing the Cybernation

Kogan Page, 1997, £18.99,
224 pp, ISBN 0-7494-2097-9

Reviewed by
Nigel Morris-Cotterill

1. Introduction
2. Cyber-crime
3. Conclusion

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This is a Book Review published on 4 August 1997.

Citation: Morris-Cotterill N, 'Neil Barrett's Digital Crime - Policing the Cybernation', Book Review, 1997 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>.

1. Introduction

Cyber crime is one of the expected growth areas for the foreseeable future. In a conference paper on this subject, your reviewer explained one of the reasons as being that, in the global village of the Internet, everyone knows everyone elses first name but has no idea of their identity. It is also one of the fastest moving: like a fairground shooting gallery, the target is always somewhere different. But there is one other significant factor: any offence involving the Internet is, by definition international and - often- stateless

2. Cyber-crime

It takes only a few lines for Barrett to identify one of the biggest problems in any form of cyber-crime investigation - 'largely inexpert investigators... And equally inexpert courts...'

Some of the writing is irritatingly cliched (the late 20th century will surely come to be known as 'the Information Age' and in some ways the book skims the surface of the subject like a bird skimming a lake - picking up drops of water at random and allowing them to fall, equally randomly. So, any subject which can be remotely connected is added to the padding: in one passage, only a dozen lines long, there are references to 'road traffic management systems, automated CCTV monitors and road speed analysers.. the Internet.. CD-Roms.. scanners... laser printers, satellite and fibre-optic telecommunications systems..'

And in some respects the book falls short of essential analyses - for example, the discussion of encryption glosses over the legal implications of using encryption - in some states it is illegal to encrypt messages and in others only basic encryption can be used. Also, once 'off topic' the book makes glaring errors - 'even stolen money from a bank raid must be sold through a Fence - ie laundered - and is therefore worth much less to the thief than its face value.' This is patent nonsense.

The section 'penetrating computer security' is an account of hacking and phreaking but a more readable and more comprehensive and explanatory account of many of the same stories is in CyberPunks - Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier (Hafner & Markoff, 1993)

3. Conclusion

Once the work moves away from generalities and attacks individual topics in depth, it becomes a far more valuable book. There is a problem, here, though. All law books (and although not written by a lawyer, it is inevitable that law is a central theme) have to deal with the fact that - no matter how prosaic the area of law - the legislature and the courts will always be tinkering with it and an author has to take a fix as at a date often months before publication. In the case of computer related topics, the book is hopelessly out of date long before it is published. This is not the authors fault - around the world there are many books in preparation on policing the Internet. The fault is the medium. Books such as this need a new method of delivery so they can be constantly updated.

As a primer, the book is a good starting point - perhaps aided by its 'see it and write about it' approach which reminds the reader that no aspect of computer related activity can be viewed in isolation - that the interconnectivity of our systems is paralleled in the interconnectivity of our information.

With reservations as to its depth, and because most of the other books on the subject are heavy legal treatises which are considerably more expensive, this book should be regarded as having a cautious 'buy' note - but not for those already well read on the subject.

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