The problems of controlling global crime

Globalisation has resulted in more global crime in several ways:

  • Increased trafficking of goods across across international waters – illegal drugs is the most obvious, but there is also counterfeit clothes and electronics and the smuggling of alcohol and cigarettes to avoid taxes.
  • Increased human trafficking – for example women and girls being shipped into the sex-industry against their will, but also trafficking for forced-marriage, cheap ‘slave’ labour and the role of organised crime in helping to move migrants across borders to escape dismal situations in their home countries.
  • Various financial crimes – the use of tax havens by wealthy individuals and corporations to avoid tax.
  • Cybercrimes – these are very numerous and include everything from online frauds and scams to cyberwarfare between governments.
  • Environmental crimes – illegally dumping waste in one country can easily seep across borders, especially if toxic fumes become air born.

The above isn’t supposed to be an exhaustive list, it’s just to give you a reminder of the scale of global crimes.

Global Crimes: Very difficult to police!

Different countries have different norms and values and thus different legal systems – what is criminal in one country may not be criminal in another – for example dumping E waste is not illegal in Ghana, even when the toxins from that waste leach into the water and the sky (when people burn plastic to get the metal to sell for example). International Law isn’t well enough established to penalise countries for committing ‘environmental crimes’ and neither are individual nation states.

While there is an international court of justice at the Hague, but this only resides over those accused of the ‘worst crimes against humanity’ (for example genocide), it doesn’t deal with ‘lesser crimes’ such as ‘every day’ trafficking and cybercrime. There is no ‘international court’ for these crimes, it’s down to individual countries to put the criminals on trial, however governments may be unwilling to do this (See below).

Some people in those countries which supply illegal goods may actually see the activity of criminal networks as benefitting their country. A possible example of this is the Mafia in Bulgaria who ship a lot of heroine up into Europe – there will be tens of thousands of people in both Afghanistan and Bulgaria who see themselves as net winners out of the global drugs trades. There may well be a lot of victims (drug addicts) in the West but the British government has limited power to stop the supply of drugs coming from Afghanistan, all it can do is control the supply at its own borders, at customs.

In some cases the governments in those countries where global criminals are based will actually turn a blind eye to their criminal dealings because the net inflow of money benefits that country.

Cybercrimes are especially difficult to police because often the victims (of online fraud for example) don’t know who the criminals are – they remain hidden behind VPNs and so the origin of the fraud may not even be traceable.

Even if agreements can be reached between one or more countries, it takes a lot of resources to build a case against a criminal organisation operating in more than one country, so there are also practical barriers.

Finally, and possibly most simply, there is a lot space out there – both real and virtual, most governments don’t have the resources to put every inch of a border under 24/7 surveillance, let alone keep the huge areas of cyberspace under observation. There’s a lot of ‘dark space’ for crime to take place in our global real and virtual worlds!

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