Linkage: The Criminalization of America

June 4, 2008

I just discovered this nice essay on the criminalizatoin of America by Dr. John Turley.  Dr. Turley concludes, “We can find better ways to deal with runaway bushes, castaway pets, or even potty-mouth problems. Congress and the states should create independent commissions to review their laws in order to decriminalize negligent conduct, limiting criminal charges to true crimes and true criminals. In the end, a crime means nothing if anyone can be a criminal.”


Everyone is a Criminal: Lawn Crime

June 3, 2008

If you live in Canton Ohio, it may soon be illegal to let your lawn grow.  This story from the Canton Repository details the proposed legislation which expands Canton’s existing high-grass and weeds law by making a second offense a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250 and up to 30 days in jail.  More than 8 inches constitutes high grass or weeds, according to Canton city law.   A vacant uncared for house can reduce the value of surrounding homes by thousands of dollars, and also increases the likelihood of health and crime risks in the area.

While the proposed expansion of the high grass law is actually intended to prevent crime and other issues related to unkept properties, this law is a great example of why the trend to make everyone a criminal is dangerous.  While Canton’s law might seem reasonable on its face, it is very likely going to end up vicitmizing the very people it seeks to protect. 

Canton’s Law Service Director Thomas Bernabei who initiated the review of the existing high grass law says that the expanded law would be pursued “with vigor” which one assumes incudes encouranging law enforcement and prosecutors to seek out and prosecute as many violaters as possible and to make examples out of some of the first violaters prosecuted. 

However, as stated in the article, its actually quite difficult to prosecute a corporation for a crime like this.  Director Joseph Martuccio admits as much in the Canton Repository article, describing the challenge of following a paper trail to the guilty party.  As a result individual law breakers are much more likely to be prosecuted under the proposed ordinance than the corporations that own foreclosed properties.  It is much more likely that an individual home owner in Canton would be the first jailed under the proposed law rather than a corprorate officer of a major bank which is neglecting its properties. 

Maybe you can’t imagine the Canton city fathers prosecuting and jailing little old ladies for not mowing their grass.  Certainly this is all some paranoid ACLU fantasy?  The fact is that something very similar to this scenario has already happened in Orem Utah.  Earlier this year 70 year old Betty Perry was arrested, handcuffed, and briefly jailed for resisting arrest when a police officer tried to cite her for failing to water her lawn.  She was released and settled the case recently after agreeing to a plea bargain in which she paid a $100 fine and received six months of probation. 

Perhaps Canton’s city council should consider the effect of criminalizing what is at worst a nuisance but might also be an aesthetic choice.  Finally, consider the tragic events in Batavia Ohio about a year ago, in which a 15 year old boy was shot and killed for walking on Charles Martin’s carefully manicured lawn.  “He stepped on it and he walked 40 feet through it,” Martin said. “I cared about it. I cut it every five days.”  A young boy is dead and Mr. Martin was sentenced to life in prison and is unlikely to ever be parolled.  All over a lawn.

Where does online crime happen?

May 19, 2008

Mike Arrington at TechCrunch writes about two men who have been accused and arrested for crimes in their native countries involving the use or publication of information over the Internet.  The Internet services these men used aren’t illegal here in the U.S., but their use of them was deemed illegal in their home countries.  Such events won’t be news to readers of FutureCrime who perhaps also remember the story from earlier this year about Afghnai journalist  Sayed Parvez Kambaksh who downloaded information on women’s rights from the Internet and disseminated it in Afghanistan.  He now faces a death sentence there.  Over 100,000 signatures have been gathered on the Internet in support of Parvez, please consider signing the petition yourself.

These stories highlight one of the unique features of online crime, which is the difficulty in defining where online crimes happen and what legal jurisdictions apply.  In general, an online crime can be considered as happening in any of three distinct locations.  First, there is the location of the person committing the crime.  Second, there is the location of the victim.  Third, there is the location of the technical resources or systems employed in the crime.  In many cases, law enforcement in all three jurisdictions may consider prosecution.

For example, in the Megan Meier MySpace suicide case Lori Drew is currently under indictment in California for  events which appear to have occurred in O’Fallon, Missouri.  Or did they?  U.S. attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said attorneys “saw a Los Angeles nexus because MySpace Inc. is a local company”.  The indictment alleges that Lori Drew provided false information when she registered for a MySpace account and that she violated various aspects of the company’s terms of service, including prohibitions on soliciting information from anyone under 18 and using information obtained from MySpace to “harass, abuse or harm” other people.  Drew’s attorney, H. Dean Steward, has of course raised the issue of whether the case should legitimately be tried in California.  “There are a lot of issues we’re going to need to raise, including why this case is happening in Los Angeles,” Steward said.

In another recent case, Michael Jackson along with Prince, the Village People, UB40 and Bob Marley’s rights holders have hired the Web Sheriff John Giacobbi who is planning to sue the BitTorrent tracker site the Pirate Bay on behalf of these artists for $100 million in both the U.S. and Sweden.  In their response, the Pirate Bay heads right for the issue of jurisdiction stating, “Websheriff says he wants to sue us in Sweden and in the US. Most of us civilized people understand that people cannot be sued outside their own domicile – aka we can not be sued outside of Sweden. So good luck with that. It proves that the sheriff is just after making some headlines!”

To a large extent the location of an online crime and the relevant legal jurisdictions remains an open question.  In all of these cases we see law enforcement trying to define a crime as having occurred  within their jurisdiction or a favorable jurisdiction to allow for prosecution.  The U.S. prosecutors are attempting to stretch the interpretation of the U.S. laws to allow prosecution of Lori Drew in California.  The Web Sheriff is attempting to sue the Pirate Bay in the U.S. for “crimes” committed in Sweden and elsewhere because he can’t sue them there.  There really is little difference between these cases and the stories of  those individuals being prosecuted for what we consider to be legally protected free speech here in the U.S.  We expect to see more law enforcement entities around the world attempting to define crimes as having occurred in their jurisdictions.  Future criminals and crime fighters take note.

Linkage: In Reference to Murder

May 14, 2008

In Reference to Murder is a great resource of links to other crime related sites.  Organized by crime type.

Virtual Police Line Up

May 14, 2008

Check out this interesting video of a virtual reality police line up. the system was developed at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and depicts several interesting concepts employing virtual reality to improve the line up process. The VHIL’s research was performed in collaboration with the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior, the National Science Foundation, and the Federal Judicial Center. the goal of the work is to apply virtual environments to deepend understanding of how witnesses of crimes identify suspects.

The eyewitness observes the suspects through viewing a virtual environment delivered to a head mounted display, although I can see no reason why a similar set of functionality could not be delivered to a screen based system. This allows the eyewitness to potentially be at a remote or distant location from the suspects, who need not even all be present at one location themselves.

The use of a 3D interactive environment also makes it is possible for an eyewitness to not only to see the individuals in the line up from the front, but also to “fly around” them and view them from different angles or even from just inches away.

This also makes it possible to place the line up in a different virtual location, perhaps into a scene similar to where the crime was committed.

Unfortunately, the virtual line up as implemented suffers from several weaknesses. First, the current implementation uses digital “busts” glued onto representative bodies. While this approach allows for the creation of digital “foils”, simulated persons similar in appearance to a true suspect, it also means that facial motion can not be presented. This representation can be misleading also because the body shape, stature, and clothing may not be accurate representations of the suspects’ true appearance. It also limits the ability to employ realistic representations of distinguishing marks not found on the face, i.e. tattoos and scars.

Second, as implemented, the virtual busts have no ability to be animated in real-time. Facial motion is known to be an important cue in facial recognition and this work ignores some of the well known results in the study of human face and person recognition abilities here. Finally, the avatar body motions are completely fake eliminating the use of any cues related to body motion, gait, etc. which have also been shown to aid recognition.

Unfortunately these limitations of the head mounted virtual reality based line up are likely to prevent its use in any real world line ups. A better approach would seem to be using blue/green screen video based capture of real suspect images possibly from multiple cameras, and image based rendering to generate the virtual face views. See for example this research and the research at the Fraunhofer Institute into image based rendering of faces for virtual conferencing.

Linkage: IBM and the Future of Crime

May 10, 2008

A podcast of an interview with Dr Charles Palmer of IBM on cybercrime.

From the IBM investor relations area.

In Brief: Woman Busts Laptop Thieves Remotely

May 9, 2008

According to WCBS, a woman in Westchester NY was not only able to locate her stolen laptop on the Internet but also was able to remotely photograph the thieves using the laptop’s internal web camera.  The perpetrators were caught as a result.  Apparently a friend of the laptop’s owner noticed that the stolen machine was online, and notified the true owner who was able to use Back to My Mac to take control of her Mac over the Internet to obtain the pictures.  Future criminals and crime fighters take note.

In Brief: CODIS DNA Database To Catch Horse Thieves

May 2, 2008

Horses are valuable and stealing horses is a big business. “EDNA Test” is now offering Equine CODIS, based upon the same process as the FBI’s human own CODIS system which is used for human DNA analysis. CODIS stands for Combined DNA Information Systems. The CODIS software enables State, local, and national law enforcement crime laboratories to compare DNA profiles electronically. Horses don’t have fingerprints and therefore DNA is the most accurate available method for horse identification. Implanted microchips have potential health risks, and along with tattoos or brands can be altered or removed. Reference

Microsoft Ships Future Crime Fighting Tool and Fights Cybercrime

April 29, 2008

It has been revealed that Microsoft has developed a tool which will enable forensic investigators to easily gather digital evidence after a crime has been committed. The COFEE is a USB device that reportedly supports 150 commands that can dramatically cut the time it takes to gather digital evidence including decrypting passwords analyzing Internet activity, and all data stored in the computer. Apparently the device has been available to the law enforcement community since June 2007, although there have not to my knowledge been any previous public revelations of its use. Microsoft’s Tim Cranton describes COFEE as “a preconfigured, automated tool” that “fits on a USB thumb drive. Prior to COFEE the equivalent work would require a computer forensics expert to enter 150 complex commands manually through a process that could take three to four hours. With COFEE, you simply plug into a running computer to extract the data with the click of one button –completing the work in about 20 minutes.” Cranton states that more than 2,000 law enforcement officers have registered for COFEE and the tool is used in over 15 countries.

Tim Cranton demos COFEE at LE tech 2008

The IMO not very surprising revelation of COFEE hit the blogosphere today during Microsoft’s 2nd Annual Law Enforcement technology Conference an event especially for law enforcement officials which is being attended by 400 individuals from more than 80 agencies in 35 countries around the world.

COFEE is only one aspect of Microsoft’s anti-cybercrime efforts. Cranton also described the role of the Internet Safety Enforcement Team and organization founded in 2002 as making “the Internet safer and more secure for everyone. ” Although Cranton didn’t go into any further detail of what this organization actually does on a day to day basis, he does reveal that the ISET consists of “35 professionals around the globe including former prosecutors, investigators, software engineers and business professionals whose full-time job is to make the Internet a safer place.”

This seems to be somewhat at odds with Aaron Kornblum’s previous revelations about ISET which described the organization as “a worldwide group of 65 attorneys, investigators, and other professionals” but whatever the size of the organization it appears their primary work is to aid law enforcement with technical investigations. ISET aided the FBI in gathering evidence against convicted phisher Jayson Harris who was operating “a phishing scheme by creating a bogus MSN billing website and then sending e-mails to MSN customers requesting that they visit the website and update their accounts by providing credit card account numbers and other personal information. ”

The work of Peter Fifka, an ISET investigator was documented in an enjoyable 2003 article entitled Gumshoe chases Internet villains in Eastern Europe ISET also targets spammers and the creators of viruses and worms. Some are sure to question Microsoft’s motives and wonder about their influence over investigations conducted by the law enforcement community.

The Justice Department says the company doesn’t influence its investigations. Microsoft is not “driving law enforcement’s priorities,” according to Christopher Painter, deputy chief of the department’s Computer Crime Section, but given the fact that Microsoft appears to initiate at least some of the investigations conducted by ISET questions are likely to remain.

[Update: According to this article, COFEE was developed by Anthony Fung, a senior investigator on Microsoft’s Internet Safety Enforcement Team.  Some additional interesting speculation about COFEE here ]

I’m back…

April 29, 2008

I’ve been so busy fighting crime that I haven’t had much time to post. But I’m back and ready to start posting again!