Computer Crime has become a very large issue in our society today; this paper will look at this issue from a sociological perspective. It will analyze the various crimes that make up computer crime and see what changes it has brought about in the world in which we live in. Computer crime first is a very new problem in our society today and it is crimes that are committed from a computer. These include embezzling, breaking into other computers, cyber porn and various other crimes that have a drastic affect on the society and the institutions that each of us hold to keep our global society running.
To first understand computer crime one must understand first what crime is. According to Diana Kendall, “crime is a behavior that violates criminal law and is punishable with fines, jail or other sanctions”(Kendall 1999; 161). Yet since computer technology is so new it has really no laws to govern it. A law is formal norms that are enforced, norms being established rules of behavior. Many of the crimes committed on computers often times go unpunished. As stated by David Pitchford in the London journal Focus when writing on pornography on the Internet, ” the only way illegal pornographers can be caught is through chance leads, tip-offs and telephone tracing” (Focus 1995; p10-12). Many of the crimes that are also committed on computers via the Internet are very new also. New subcultures have formed around the Internet for the possibilities it brings. Computer crime despite the many problems it has brought has also brought some needed social controls to the Internet and as stated before some laws have been formed to protect many of the institutions that because of computer crime have become targets for criminals.
Now that I have briefly explained computer crime, I will go into further depth into explaining computer crime from the different sociological perspective theories. To start with is the integrationist perspective looks at of society as the sum of the interactions of individuals and groups” (Kendall; 17). Many of those that commit computer crimes are hackers or people who hack into computer systems for both fun and for gaining access to information. They have formed their own subcultures and hold many different beliefs about the information that is stored in personal computers. Said best by J. Thomas McEwen in the article Computer Ethics many hackers believe that “computerized data is free and should be accessible to anyone (McEwen 1991; 8-11). A subculture is a group a group of people who share a different set of beliefs that differ significantly from the larger society (Kendall; 604). Besides forming subcultures, many hackershave learned their behavior from other hackers. The behavior they learn seems to lend credibility to Edwin Sutherlands Differential Association Theory “which states that individuals are more likely to deviate from societal norms when they frequently associate with persons who are more favorable toward deviance than conformity (Kendall; 165). According to McEwen most “young computer hackers beliefs come from association with other hackers, not family members and teachers (McEwen 1991; 8-11). Besides the fact that many hackers learn, their ways from other hackers many after arrested are formally labeled as a hacker and a deviant, those who violate cultural norms and beliefs (Kendall; 598) The labeling theory suggests that deviants are those have been labeled as such by others (Kendall; 166). In theory than, after the person has been arrested they than assume that label and act accordingly. As written by David Pitchford in the London magazine, Focus, one hacker after being arrested was not deterred, he instead became a more active and in”92 became cyberspaces first megastar Pitchford; pages 10-13).” It was only after his second arrest that he stopped offences.
Besides the interactionist, perspective on computer crime is the conflict theory. “The conflict theory states that people in power maintain their advantage by using the law to protect their own interest.” (Kendall; 168). Under the conflict perspective, hackers and other computer criminals are seen as deviant because many hackers break into large companies for the “mindless desire for glory (Pitchford; pages 10-13). ” However besides hackers lack of any real criminal desires they are still seen as deviant because they blatantly while doing their hacking.
Since the Internet is a global tool, many of the crimes that are committed extend beyond national borders. For this reason the advent of computer crime have made the global community smaller. What one hacker does on his computer in another country affects you and I. This can be seen with the recent virus “Love bug”, this virus disabled computer systems world wide (Washington Times, 5/18/2000). Yet, because of the quickly advancing computer technology a cultural lag has been created. A cultural lag is a gap between the technical development of a society and its moral and legal institutions. The “Love bug” virus; a set of commands that change computer programming and sometimes destroy files, one example of a virus is a “worm, which is a self replicating program”(Pitchford pages 10-13). The “love bug” virus in the last month crippled global companies by erasing files of any computer it downloaded into. Yet, since the hacker was from the Philippines, which have no law against “computer hacking he may be able to escape any conviction (Washington Times 5/18/2000).” So the hacker who caused damage of 15 billion worldwide could get away with a crime considered a felony in the U.S.
Although computer crime and hacking have become a global problem, it does serve a function in society. Under the functionalist perspective, “society seeks equilibrium within the five institutions of the economy, family, education, government and religion (Kendall; 1999, 14).” So as a hacker destroys either government files or the files on your personal computer, the other institutions are affected. Computer crime serves in society as a way for the computer Internet to police itself by creating better systems that stop hackers from breaking into systems. “After a break in city banks cash management system city bank upgraded it so customers accounts were safer “(Washington Post 1998). New police divisions have also sprung up to keep an eye on the Internet, the FBI and the Chicago police have units that specialize in computer crime (Chicago Tribune; 1998). While computer crime may cause havoc and unrest, it has made the government and those who control it keep everything in balance. The other institutions are effected also but not as drastically as the economy and the government. Families have become more aware of security on their computers and many people are becoming more educated on those previously shadowy figures known as hackers.
In conclusion, computer crime does have a drastic affect on the world in which we live. It affects every person no matter where they are from. It has made those who committed the crimes into top head lines. It is ironic that those who in secret break into computers across the world for enjoyment have been labeled as deviance. Many hackers view the Internet as public space for everyone and do not see their actions as criminal. Hackers are as old as the Internet and many have been instrumental in making the Internet what it is now. Yet, despite this view popular culture and society have labeled hackers and computer criminals as deviance.
In my view point hacking and computer crime will be with us for as long as we have the Internet. It is our role to keep the balance between what is a crime and what is done for pure enjoyment. Luckily, the government is making an effort to control the Internet. Yet, true control over the Internet is impossible, because the reasons the Internet was created. This is why families and the institution of education of is needed, parents need to let their children know what is okay to do on the computer and what is not and to educate them on the repercussions of their actions should they choose to become part of the subculture of hackers.
In finishing this paper, the true nature of what computer crime will include in the future is unknown. What was criminal yesterday may not be a crime the next day because advances in computers may not allow it. Passwords might be replaced for more secure forms of security, and hackers could be a dying breed. This seems unlikely until the world starts the work as one to control the Internet and those that abuse its power and seek to take what is not theirs. Yet, as best said by Richard Power spokesman for the Computer Security Institute, ” the technologies are very new and they’re very vulnerable, we in going to be in a messy situation for a while”(Chicago Tribune; 1998).