Currently, technological advancements go hand in hand with criminal investigations. In the last ten years, technological advancements have developed at an astonishing speed. “Increased computing power, advances in data transmission and attractive user-friendly graphic interfaces, present law enforcement agencies with unprecedented capacity to collect, store, analyze and share data with stakeholders in and outside governments” (Reichert, 2001).
In due course, information technology has been used as a machine that aids in law enforcement to meet the progressing demands of the complexity of the operation. As much as these sophistications are welcomed, groundwork studies have shown that some aspects if not incorporated properly, are bound to be rejected by the users (the officers and the staff especially if the technology appears to be partial or awkward). “Because of the speed of advances in this field recently, independent studies on the impact of information technology on policing are only getting underway” (Reichert, 2001).
Therefore this paper is going to focus on criminal justice based on computer use. It will examine the advantages of computers and the use of computer technology in investigations, the disadvantages to law enforcement concerning the advancements of computers, show a case where the computer was used to aid in the commission of a crime and a case where computer use was beneficial to the prosecution in a criminal case. The paper will then conclude by giving an overall sense of this technology about criminal justice.
Advantages of computer and use of computer technology in investigations
Since computers have more advantages in the contemporary world they have become an essential tool in our day-to-day activities. Computers are, “essential when it comes to networking with the rest of the world. The world has indeed become a global village by the courtesy of internet connection. Using a computer, one can remain connected to the world through Internet” (Bluff, 2003). Computers, on the other hand, have become an important tool not only for communicating but also for storing data that can be used later in investigations.
The use of computers in investigations is developing due to the advancement in the level of criminal activities in the world today. Computer technology-aided investigations have assisted in unearthing many criminal activities e.g. homicide, terror campaigns among others. “Computer forensics has become an essential part of crime investigations beyond the restriction of cybercrimes. It assists effectively in solving more sinister crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, terrorism, etc” (Blakeslee, 2009).
Criminals are arrogant; they think that once they commit a crime and erase everything from databases their activities can’t be traced. Little do they know that there is backup information that can always be accessed when needed? Forensic experts can obtain data from smashed computers and acquire necessary investigatory information. “They can also recover data from water-damaged computers, peripheral devices such as USB drives, palm pilots, and email accounts even after deletion and defragmentation” (Blakeslee, 2009). This information is used as digital evidence against criminals in a court of law.
Disadvantages to law enforcement concerning the advancement in computer technology
The use of computers in law enforcement comes along with its demerits. First, the numbers of inquiries involved are numerous and these coupled with the time limit required to beat a given deadline for the submission of an investigatory report are always deficient. About this, “Sprint Nextel, a wireless service provider, provided law-enforcement agencies with GPS location information on its customers over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009” (Pearce, 2000).
Another disadvantage related to this technology is that the criminals can deny access to vital information from the investigating officer thereby stalling the whole process of inquiry. This is done by encrypting the important files. “In some cases, the ‘crooks’ have used encryption to block law enforcement access to their communications and computer files. As a result, the investigators had to deal with encrypted files” (Anderson, 2003).
A case where a computer was used to aid in the committing of a crime
Computer-assisted Crime which is categorized into two can be defined as “the use of a computer to commit a crime and/or as a repository of evidence related to the crime” (Koenig, 2002). The first category involves the use of the internet to commit a crime and the second involves the illegal access to and/or processing of a document. The below case is an example of the former category that happened in Wood-Ridge whereby Trish Barteck was doing trimming of plants in her front yard on April 19, 2002, when a strange man sitting in a sports-utility-vehicle eyed her. “Barack didn’t know that the man wanted to rape her, as a result of a dastardly chat-room plot. She felt uneasy about the stranger and called the police. She later learned that her in-laws had planned the rape via the internet” (Hopkins, 2005).
A case where the use of the computer was beneficial to crime investigation
Computer-aided investigations have gifted law enforcement massively. Among the many benefits, there is a case of file encryption that happened in the largest district attorney’s office in the U.S. This is according to Blakeslee (2009) who shows that:
Potential leakage was discovered of confidential files prompting computer forensics experts to be called in. They recovered more than 30,000 files contained on two CDs written in a foreign language. After unsuccessful attempts to open the files, they discovered that the files were saved in GIF format with non-standard headers, which prevented the files from opening. Computer forensic experts were able to repair these file headers and allowed the district attorney’s office to use the evidence for the pertinent case (Blakeslee, 2009).
Therefore as shown in this paper, this technology can be used to either abet crime or prosecute criminals. Many times investigators come in when the crime has already been committed. This makes people feel that technology is not beneficial. It is again unfortunate that we cannot do without this technology as it has more advantages than disadvantages. For that reason, governments should invest in the provision of adequate edification to experts who can then help shut loopholes used by computer criminals.
Anderson, M. (2003). Law Enforcement and the Internet. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Blakeslee, H. (2009). Computer forensics technologies in crime investigation. Routledge: London.
Bluff, A. (2003). Computer and the internet. Journal on Information Technology 24 (2), 62-69.
Hopkins, K. (2005). Cyber-rape outlaws. International Journal on computer-aided crime 37 (6), 143-167.
Koenig, D. (2002). Investigation of Cybercrime and Technology-related Crime. Journal on computer-aided crime 42 (2), 67-81.
Pearce, K. (2000). Advantages & Disadvantages of Mobile Tracking. New York: Springer.
Reichert, K. (2001). Information technology and law enforcement. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.