The development of computer technology has a major influence on multiple professional fields, including law enforcement. Modern technology and software use produces hardly replaceable digital footprints supporting criminal investigations. Nevertheless, the advancements in computers also bring benefits to criminals by offering new opportunities for forgery, fraud, and criminal activity coordination. This paper reviews the advantages and disadvantages of computer technology for crime investigation and law enforcement and concludes that the former outweighs the latter.
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Uses and Advantages of Software and Computer Technology in Investigations: A Summary
The various forms of technology are currently used in crime investigation, giving rise to digital forensics that takes evidence retrieval efforts to the next level. Computer forensics in investigative efforts incorporates the use of evidence search and analysis activities pertaining to mobile devices and external data carriers, including flash drives, hard disks, and CDs/DVDs (Ramadhani et al., 2017). The remaining areas of computer forensics include the analysis of operating systems, user network data, and wireless connections or digital communication between various parties involved in criminal activities (Ramadhani et al., 2017). Considering these multiple fields of application, computer technology use possesses advantages for investigations, including facilitating evidence retrieval and accounting for the role of digital communication in coordinating unlawful activities in the modern world.
Another crucial advantage of computers and software in investigations is that this approach emphasizes evidence that is harder to destroy compared to purely physical pieces of evidence and artifacts. In searching activities, applying computer technology results in the retrieval of digital evidence in the form of recoverable active files. Some examples are images, screenshots, text or voice messages, and other deleted files shedding light on criminals’ identities, methods, intentions, and plans (Ramadhani et al., 2017). Alternatively, evidence collection benefits from the identification of residual data, including browsing histories reported by suspects’ Internet service providers, database logs, deleted call or message histories, and so on (Ramadhani et al., 2017). Additionally, computer technology promotes the identification of social media posts and messages, including those deleted by the user, that announce anonymous users’ criminal intentions and plans. In this sense, social media monitoring aids in the investigation of terroristic threats, child porn dissemination, technology-facilitated drug dealing, and cyber-stalking (Siriaraya et al., 2019). Thus, evidence destruction has become more challenging in the current era, and digital forensics instrumentalizes this achievement for seeking justice.
The Advancement of Computers: Possible Disadvantages for Law Enforcement
Advancements in computer technology facilitate the commission of fraud, thus requiring more complex investigative procedures to detect manipulated materials. As per law enforcement authorities, current technology, such as advanced image editing software, has been made instrumental in fraud cases (Callaway, 2020). The increasing complexity of photo and document editing and production applications, including AI-based programs, offers new opportunities for identity fraud, document and signature forgery, theft, extortion, and other crimes (Callaway, 2020). This situation involves the need for qualified subject matter experts for the law enforcement system. They should be skilled enough to detect added layers, traces left in files’ metadata, minor color changes, some traces of AI techniques’ utilization, and similar signs of modification (Callaway, 2020). If committed by data-savvy and skillful software users, technology-facilitated fraud cases can require more effort-intensive investigations than before.
The advent of technology for anonymous browsing and IP address replacement also challenges the law enforcement system by facilitating illegal activities. Specifically, the dark web, the deeper layer of the Internet accessed via anonymous browsers and search engines, has become the largest hub of crime in the digital age (Kaur & Randhawa, 2020). The use of layered encryption to protect users’ and vendors’ anonymity and cryptocurrency utilization promote illegal transactions in which the parties’ identities remain hidden (Kaur & Randhawa, 2020). The crimes that it facilitates include drug and human trafficking, personal data trade, financial fraud, weapon trafficking, contract killing, and the distribution of child pornography or actual torture/rape footage (Kaur & Randhawa, 2020). Such materials’ or offers’ appearance on social media and moderated non-hidden websites would likely cause prompt reports from users. The National Institute of Justice (2020) problematizes anonymous browsing by stating the need for innovative forensic standards, package inspection laws, and awareness-raising and training programs to maximize the use of dark web evidence. Finally, the invisible web is accessed purposefully, hindering random witnesses’ instant detection of illegal content.
How Computers Support the Commission of Crimes: The Online Fraud Network in Massachusetts
Criminals widely use computers and the Internet to commit fraud and target victims online, and a recent case of six Nigerian and Kenyan nationals operating as a group from Massachusetts illustrates it. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts reports that six individuals residing in Hyde Park, Canton, and Dorchester collaborated to implement online fraud schemes resulting in $4 million in damages for the victims (USAO Massachusetts, 2021). Using personal computers and software for document forgery, they created fake social media accounts and engaged in the so-called romantic fraud by earning the victims’ trust and finding pretexts for demanding money (USAO Massachusetts, 2021). Another scheme that the group utilized involved identity theft and fraudulent financial documents to collect pandemic unemployment assistance payments on behalf of other people (USAO Massachusetts, 2021). For safe money withdrawal, the criminals used fake passports and registered a series of bank accounts (USAO Massachusetts, 2021). Using modern technology, the criminals had received millions of U.S. dollars prior to the investigation’s start, which implies their professional use of technology and the ability to make individual separate cases seem disconnected.
How Computers Facilitate Prosecution: The Case of Larry Thomas
Computers facilitate evidence collection and prosecution in numerous instances, and Larry Thomas’s case illustrates how digital forensics supports justice. In 2016, Thomas, a 20-year-old man, attempted to rob Rito Llamas-Juarez, a 50-year-old resident of Indianapolis, after the man agreed to buy the criminal’s mobile phone (Ryckaert, 2018). Llamas-Juarez was found dead, and the investigators searched Thomas’s social media accounts that used fake names to collect more evidence. They retrieved the photos of Thomas posing in a bracelet found near the victim and with a semi-automatic rifle, the ammunition for which was similar to the available evidence at the crime scene (Ryckaert, 2018). These pieces of evidence helped to strengthen the case and prove the defendant’s connection to the murder, thus demonstrating the great role of technology in matching criminals to their actions.
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Computer technologies benefit law enforcement by offering the opportunity to restore and implement evidence that criminals attempt to destroy and consider individuals’ digital footprints in disentangling individual-level offenses or larger criminal networks. Additionally, as the murder case cited above demonstrates, many offenders are careless enough to post or store digital evidence that facilitates the investigation of their crimes. Although the advancement of computer programs requires criminal experts to develop new competencies, computers can support successful investigations to a large extent, thus contributing to increased clearance rates.
Callaway, J. (2020). The use of Photoshop to commit fraud. Jeff Callaway Law Enforcement Consulting. Web.
Kaur, S., & Randhawa, S. (2020). Dark web: A web of crimes. Wireless Personal Communications, 112(4), 2131-2158. Web.
National Institute of Justice. (2020). Taking on the dark web: Law enforcement experts ID investigative needs. NIJ. Web.
Ramadhani, S., Saragih, Y. M., Rahim, R., & Siahaan, A. P. U. (2017). Post-genesis digital forensics investigation. International Journal of Scientific Research in Science and Technology, 3(6), 164-166. Web.
Ryckaert, V. (2018). Indianapolis man gets 55 years in prison in slaying set up via Offer Up app. IndyStar. Web.
Siriaraya, P., Zhang, Y., Wang, Y., Kawai, Y., Mittal, M., Jeszenszky, P., & Jatowt, A. (2019). Witnessing crime through tweets: A crime investigation tool based on social media. In F. Banaei-Kashani, G. Trajevski, R. H. Guting, L. Kulik, & S. Newsam (Eds.), Proceedings of the 27th ACM SIGSPATIAL International Conference on Advances in Geographic Information Systems (pp. 568-571). Association for Computing Machinery. Web.
USAO Massachusetts. (2021). Six individuals were charged with using various online scams to defraud victims of more than $4 million. U.S. Department of Justice. Web.