The New York Times reports that California has established a division to investigate and prosecute cybercrimes such as identity theft, Internet scams, computer theft, online child pornography and intellectual property theft. The unit already has been handling several dozen cases and joins Texas, Florida and Louisiana in having such units, although California’s scope and mandate will be much broader. (Texas’s and Florida’s cybercrime units focus almost exclusively on online child pornography.)
Per the article, this move was prompted by the difficulty in prosecuting these types of multi-jurisdictional crimes at the local level.
Take the case of George Bronk, a Sacramento-area man, who was sentenced to four years in prison in July for hacking into the e-mail and Facebook accounts of women and blackmailing them with indecent pictures and videos. His victims spanned at least 17 states. Initial attempts to report the blackmail to local law enforcement often proved futile because it could not be tied to any one jurisdiction.
“The unique aspect of technology is that it knows no jurisdictional boundary,” [State Attorney General Kamala] Harris said in an interview Tuesday. “We want to ensure Internet crimes don’t drop off simply because it wasn’t clear for local law enforcement, or the consumer, where to go because an incident occurred in the cloud.”
There appear to be some considerable upsides to this new arrangement: resources can now be allocated more efficiently to deal with crimes that impact more than one area, and the knowledgebase necessary to properly investigate and prosecute them can also be developed in a central location. Also, at least in theory, it may lessen abuse: I know of at least one example, although one from another state, where police in one county deliberately lured defendants into their jurisdictions through online “stings” (I use the word “sting” lightly, as from all accounts “entrapment” would have been more accurate) in order to be able to prosecute them. Having these enforcement powers centralized and more visible would help alleviate similar risk in California.
On the other hand, as the cited example shows, cybercrimes are often Internet crimes, and the Internet is not contained within the state of California. It may be an open question as to the extent California has a duty or right to enforce some of these matters.