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Organised Crime Goes Online: Realities And Challenges




Journal of Money Laundering Control Organised crime goes online: realities and challenges Anita Lavorgna Article information: To cite this document: Anita Lavorgna , (2015),"Organised crime goes online: realities and challenges", Journal of Money Laundering Control, Vol. 18 Iss 2 pp. Permanent link to this document: Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) Downloaded on: 24 March 2015, At: 02:51 (PT) References: this document contains references to 0 other documents. To copy this document: [email protected] Access to this document was granted through an Emerald subscription provided by 313859 [] For Authors If you would like to write for this, or any other Emerald publication, then please use our Emerald for Authors service information about how to choose which publication to write for and submission guidelines are available for all. Please visit for more information. About Emerald Emerald is a global publisher linking research and practice to the benefit of society. The company manages a portfolio of more than 290 journals and over 2,350 books and book series volumes, as well as providing an extensive range of online products and additional customer resources and services. Emerald is both COUNTER 4 and TRANSFER compliant. The organization is a partner of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and also works with Portico and the LOCKSS initiative for digital archive preservation. *Related content and download information correct at time of download. Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) Organised crime goes online: realities and challenges When organised crime meets the Internet: addressing a scholarly gap Contemporary society has been affected by major changes in the ways in which we interact and communicate with each other thanks to the use of the Internet. Indeed, the Internet has peculiar characteristics when compared with other Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), being not only a technical tool but also a part of today’s culture (Maltzahn, 2005). The Internet can be conceived as a new social environment characterised by being virtual, dynamic, interactive, global, commercialised, and networkable. Its usage has become widespread: the world's online population is estimated to be above 2.5 billion, about 33 per cent of world total population (Internet World Stat, 2012). There is a broad consensus that the Internet has offered plenty of new possibilities for all types of criminals, including organised crime. When considering intersections between “organised crime” and “Internet crime” two different outcomes are possible: (a) organised cyber-criminals and (b) organised crime groups (OCGs) involved in traditional activities and exploiting new criminal opportunities provided by the Internet. In the former case, the focus is on criminal actors operating Internet crimes as identified, for instance, by the 2001 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime i ; organised cyber-criminals exploit ICTs and specifically the Internet in order to commit criminal activities which target mainly computer systems or dataii. In the latter case, the focus is rather on conventional OCGs (also operative offline) operating Internet-mediated criminal activities—i.e., activities in which the Internet has been used as a primary crime facilitator but it is not necessarily an inherent part of the criminal activity per se. So far, the existing criminological literature has mostly addressed organised cybercriminals (e.g., Wall, 2007; Koops, 2011; Broadhurst et al., 2013; Lusthaus, 2013; Wall, 2014). In particular, scholarly research has studied criminal groups carrying out new types of offences targeting computer networks themselves—such as malware attacks and hacking— and committed by means of a computer system or network—such as identity theft, fraud, and child pornography. As reported by McCusker (2011), as cybercrime became pivotal in the international security agenda, some characteristics of organised crime have been attributed to cyber-criminality, which has led to some confusion whether organised cybercrime is a derivation of traditional OGCs or an evolution of such groups within the online space. For instance, it has been claimed that, even if organised crime and cybercrime are not synonymous and will never be (since the former continue to exist in the real world and the latter is often perpetrated by individuals), these two phenomena overlap (Williams, 2001) and even that organised crime entered in a new era, in which both traditional crime gangs and new types of organisation can prosper and grow in new types of crimes (McGuire, 2012). As recently underlined by Broadhurst et al. (2013), however, groups involved in cybercrimes often do not meet the standard definition of organised crime as contained in the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (Palermo Convention)iii, even if in certain cases networks operating online are highly sophisticated. This article focuses on OGCs involved in traditional activities and exploiting new criminal opportunities provided by the Internet, a category that remains under-investigated. While an increasing number of reports and newspapers note that the Internet is a tool exploited by organised crime, they seem not to pay enough attention to the modalities and the extent to which this is true: it is not easy to distinguish between new stereotypes and what is actually going on. Evidence that OCGs exploit the Internet for carrying out their illegal businesses has been compiled during the last decade by international bodies such as the INCB (2010), Interpol (Khoo Boon Hui, 2011), and Europol (2011). The last two Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessments (Europol, 2011, 2014), in particular, have stressed how Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) Internet-mediated economies facilitate all types of offline organised criminality. However, apart from anecdotic evidence, there is still little research on what types of groups use the Internet, to what degree, and for what types of activitiesiv. It is logical to think that criminal opportunities provided by the Internet should be attractive for traditional organised criminal groups—and especially for those operating large-scale trafficking activities as in the usual narrative of “transnational organised crime” (Longo, 2010)—but it is not self-evident whether these groups have the characteristics and the abilities to exploit such opportunities (McCusker, 2006, p.257). Indeed, empirical differences between the physical world and cyberspace could prevent the effective transfer of certain existing criminal activities; similarly, criminal organisations that have proven successful in the real world could not suit in a different environment (Brenner, 2002)v. Therefore, the need for this study originates from the awareness that existing criminological literature has neither sufficiently addressed the rate of the criminal adaptability of traditional organised crime when it comes to the use of the Internet, nor identified current trends in the criminal panorama on this point. This descriptive article aims at presenting some findings regarding how the Internet is exploited by different types of OCGs, ranging from hierarchical mafia-style groups to looser gangs. In order to do this, this article will provide an account of the main ways in which the Internet has been used for various criminal activities traditionally associated to the organised crime rhetoric, first and foremost cross-border trafficking activities. This study also discusses some current legal and policy approaches to deal with OCGs in the Internet age. Data (and some challenges in data collection) This study draws on selected data collected from mid-2011 to mid-2013 by the author in the course of doctoral researchvi: 31 semi-structured interviews to law-enforcement officials (n.= 23) and acknowledged experts (n.=8) in Italy, the UK, the US, and the Netherlands, and 120 case studies (law enforcement operations regarding organised crime in which the Internet had a meaningful role) investigated by relying on both primary (judicial transcripts and records from police investigations) and secondary (media news) sources. The findings also benefited from information provided by key informants at seminars and conferences I attended over the last couple of years, as well as during a Europol traineeship. The scope of this article is limited to criminal groups operating mainly in Southern and Western Europe and in the US, so that the results of this study should not be generalised to all possible comparable criminal groups. However, this article hopes to start a reflection which might be useful also in a broader geographical domain. Before moving on, it might be worth briefly discussing some issues related to difficulties in data gathering. Despite the alarmist tones of existing media and investigative reports about the extent of Internet usage by OCGs, an impressive number of investigative cases where the Internet played a major role for organised crime has not been recorded. Scarcity of reliable data has been partially attributed to the separation between law enforcement units dealing with organised crimes and cybercrimes so that the criminal phenomenon under investigation often cannot be seen in its entirety (Council of Europe, 2005, p.227)vii. Indeed, most law enforcement agencies—as well as most scholars—have treated organised crime and Internet crime independently. For instance, online investigations are not always used as a common tool to tackle trafficking activities (that are generally considered in the serious and organised crime domain), or at least not in all the countries considered in this study; and when dedicated squads exist to counter criminal networks involved in Internetmediated trafficking activities, these squads are often recent innovations. Some practices observed in the course of the research, however, are particularly positive and groundbreaking, such as certain law enforcement initiatives in the field of the online trade in Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) counterfeit pharmaceuticals, the presence of a monitoring unit for wildlife crimes committed via the Internet, and the experience developed in investigating the deep web (i.e., the hidden part of the Internet that cannot be reached through standard search engines) with regard to the trafficking in recreational drugs. Exploring different criminal activities has helped to overcome “blind spots” that can be expected from inevitable data deficiencies in relation to any specific form of criminal activity, understanding of whose modus operandi will necessarily be partial. OGCs and their activities online Several studies have already considered how advances in the ICTs have influenced the way in which organised criminals can launder illicit proceeds in easier and less risky ways by transferring them to other countries through electronic means, or how they can exploit new criminal markets on the Internet where law enforcement oversight is still minimal, such as in the case of online auctions and online gambling (Morris, 2004; Giacopassi and Pitts, 2009). The aim of this section is not to emphasise that Internet usage has opened meaningful possibilities to OCGs—which is considered as a given—but rather to describe how different criminological types of OCGs, by relying on different socio-economic opportunity structures, have different capacities of adaptation to the new possibilities and challenges provided by the Internet. First of all, a preliminary distinction has to be drawn between business-like groups, merely moved by profit, and traditional mafia-style groups. Indeed, since the very beginning of this study, with the preliminary analysis of the early cases, it was clear that different types of OCGs follow different patterns when it comes to the use of the Internet as crime facilitator. The interviewees, when consulted on this point, agreed that it would have been helpful to rely on this differentiation. The following sub-sections follow this core distinction viii ; for explanation purposes, in each sub-section the focus will shift from the organised crime groups (OCGs) to the (more or less) organised criminal activities carried out by the different groups online. Business-like groups Even if organised crime should not be reduced to illegal trades, these market-driven crimes are considered one of the major threats it causes (McCarthy, 2011). Despite the obvious differences between trafficking heroin, rhino horn, or a human being, all these activities share many common features, being all comparable to commercial businessesix; they are so-called “transit crimes”, international illegal trades where criminal groups are involved using the same opportunity structure that facilitates legal economic activities (Kleemans, 2007, p.176). As emphasised by Naìm (2006), in these cases OCGs operate as opportunistic economic agents: they do not care what they trade as long as there is a valuable profit, which entails that in many cases only at the local level—the extreme end of the trafficking chain—there are product specialists, and that the traditional rigid structures are superseded by more decentralised, flexible, and dynamic ones. Business-like groups can obviously be very heterogeneous: they can be long-established criminal networks, looser gangs run by very young leaders, or they might even lack a clear leadershipx. It is hardly surprising that benefits from using the Internet are not lost on business-like groups: thanks to the inherently transnational character of the Internet, the physical location of criminal actors is less important than it was before, providing them with the possibility to operate in countries where there are loopholes in legislation and security that can be exploited or to easily connect with distant criminal peers (Shelley, 2003). However, despite the broad consensus on the fact that business-like criminal activities have been increasingly committed at the international level via the Internet, at present there is little research-based evidence that Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) the Internet represents more than an enhanced communication tool for this type of criminal groups. From the cases observed, 13 major types of criminal opportunities provided by the Internet to carry out trafficking activities have been identified (Lavorgna, 2014a,b,c,d). Apart from opportunities that facilitate communication both among offenders and between them and (potential) customers through the use of services such as emails, Skype, and instant messaging in forums (communicative opportunities), in all the trafficking activities considered other four types of opportunities have been found: the Internet provides a way to ameliorate efficiency in criminal markets by allowing offenders to easily and promptly adjust the trafficking activity to meet changes in the demand (managerial opportunities), and it facilitates the internal organisation of business-like groups (organisational opportunities). Moreover, relationships among actors involved in the criminal business—namely offenders and clients—as well as their lifestyles are affected: not only the use of the Internet has an effect on the external interactions of criminal groups, by providing an unique framework to expand offenders’ networks of relationships by building new business ties (relational opportunities), but also it serves as a resource to sneak into the clients’ attitudes and spending habits in order to promote smuggled products (promotional opportunities). Other criminal opportunities provided by the Internet, however, seem to affect only some Internet-mediated criminal markets. Generally speaking, the differences depend mainly on the social perception of the seriousness of the criminal activity, on the place it fills in the law enforcement agenda, and on the characteristics of the actors involved. Informational opportunities (i.e., the possibility to access online to useful information) for instance, have been mostly found in criminal activities that are perceived as low-risk by offenders (and that traditionally suffer from relative carelessness in the law enforcement agenda, such as wildlife trafficking), where the Internet is often used by inexperienced offenders to get the basic information needed to enter the trafficking activity (Lavorgna, 2014a). Persuasive opportunities (i.e., the possibility to reassure potential buyers about the reliability and the legality of the trade, and the validity of the product sold) have been usually found in cases of trafficking in new psychoactive substances, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and wildlife, where clients were not fully aware that they were going after items sold illegally. Offenders involved in the online trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals rather exploit specific targeting opportunities to profile potential clients or to reach specific social groups in order to increase their chances to conclude the sale. Both in the online trade of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and in the Internet-mediated trafficking in recreational drugs, offenders use marketing and loyalisation opportunities: indeed, in both cases the products trafficked might be assumed over a long period of time and it is in the interests of sellers to attract and retain old and new clients. In particular, when clients may become habitual, the Internet is used as a powerful tool make clients feel as part of the same social group by means of social engineering. Three types of criminal opportunities specific for sex trafficking have been identified: victim selection (online social networks in particular are powerful tools for traffickers to easily get information on potential victims and to identify the ones that are more vulnerable), victim subjection (the Internet offers new instruments to remotely control victims, for instance by using online cameras, and to intimidate them, for instance by threatening to diffuse online compromising pictures and videos if victims try to rebel), and deceptive opportunities (the Internet can be used to deceive potential victims with regard to both the emotional and romantic sphere—as in the case of “loverboy” scams—and their working prospective in the country of destination). Finally, countermeasure opportunities have been found only in those activities— namely, sex trafficking and trafficking in recreational drugs—that are generally perceived as more “serious” and receive more attention from law enforcement, so that offenders take extra Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) precautions in carrying them out. In particular, in some cases the Internet was used throughout the trafficking chain to check on people offenders have to interact with online, namely potential clients, to avoid being deceived by undercover law enforcement officers. From this brief overview it is possible to conclude that the Internet has a key role in many trafficking activities xi . Overall, it has allowed anticipating interactions between offenders and customers to an earlier stage of the trafficking chain: specific items can be directly ordered and the clients’ feedback can be received instantaneously, so that the trade can be customised accordingly. Thanks to the flexibility allowed by the Internet, it is generally possible to bypass international or local intermediaries, thus eliminating an organisational layer. Moreover, the Internet seems to be boosting certain trafficking flows more than others, and in particular criminal activities that can more easily play with gaps in legislation or that are usually perceived as “less serious”. Furthermore, the Internet opened new profitable possibilities for criminal markets that were generally considered not very profitable: the possibility to reach—at least potentially—an indefinite number of potential buyers makes almost any type of criminal market worthwhile for criminals, regardless of the limited monetary value of a single item (Lavorgna, 2014a). Regarding the characteristics of business-like groups, the Internet seems to be changing the way in which certain trafficking flows—traditionally put in correlation with (transnational) organised crime—are carried out, opening the way also for smaller-time criminals with a potential global reaching. Where a structured criminal association was once needed because a minimum degree of sophistication seemed necessary in order to commit certain crimes, some organisational layers now do not seem to be fundamental anymore: for instance, both the payment and the product delivery can be made from a safe distance, through online banking and automated postal services. Very loose organisations are implicated in these trafficking activities, and—at least potentially—individuals or two cooffenders could be as efficient as a criminal network. It's easier and less risky to get in touch with potential customers without having to meet them in person. Moreover, the perpetrators do not need a connection with the territory for their criminal activities: they can take fully advantage from the Internet anonymity, and their online reputation is unrelated from their physical one. For the type of information gathered, it is difficult to determine and generalise for all cases regarding trafficking activities whether offenders had or not previous criminal experience: however, the low technical skills required to enter the criminal markets considered and the fact that often offenders were carrying out in parallel legitimate activities could be considered proxy indicators of the fact that some actors involved in many Internet related activities are newcomers. Jaishankar (2009) already underlined that a peculiar problem of criminal behaviour in the Internet environment is that, at least potentially, it “cuts across a wide spectrum of society” (p.289), and that average people can hypothetically join a group of offenders or start a criminal career on their own. As concerns Internet-mediated trafficking activities, Jaishankar’s remark is more than a hypothesis. In the (more rare) cases of trafficking activities carried out by more structured and already established OCGs, the Internet seems to be especially useful as a communication and management tool to enhance the efficiency and lower the risks of their criminal business (for instance, to avoid wiretappings and to book flight tickets and hotels online by using fake identitiesxii), but generally these groups are more cautious with their online presence. This different attitude is at least partially reflected with regard to the cyber-hotspots used—i.e., online “places” with high crime intensity. It was possible to observe how offenders choose them in the surface web and in the deep web with two contradictory aims: first, to conceal the trafficking activity from law enforcement and secondly to expose it to new clients. This choice results in a constant trade-off with the threshold depending both on the characteristics of the criminal activity and of the offenders involvedxiii. However, while Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) many Internet opportunities are generally exploited by looser gangs, couples, and individuals in the surface web, only in cases where more structured OCGs were involved it was possible to note a greater use of the deep web. Since the monitoring of and the investigations in the deep web started only very recently, it is difficult to draw clear conclusions in this regard, but this appears at least as a preliminary trend deserving more scholarly attention (see, for instance, Martin, 2013). Indeed, in most of the cases observed offenders did not even bother to move to the deep web for advertising their products, but they rather stayed in the surface web: the risk for them to be caught remains minimum given the enormity of the environment that should be controlled, and the impression is that law enforcement operations dealing with these types of illicit trade show only the tip of the iceberg. Mafia-style groups Mafia-style groups are defined on the model of Italian mafias as identified by article 416-bis of the Italian criminal code, meaning that for these groups not only an associative bond is required, but this bond is established through intimidation, submission, and code of silence (omertà). Moreover, criminal activities include not only crimes linked to the underground economic field (ranging from trafficking activities to extortion), but also to the legal economy and the public sector, because of their infiltration in local the social environment. Indeed, historically mafias have not only been players in criminal markets but also used violence and intimidation to obtain space in the legitimate economy; they are moved by profit as well as by their will to impose their presence to productive activities in their territory and in the political arena (Paoli, 2005). Generally speaking, these OCGs heavily depend on their strong connections with the territory, and for many of their activities it is the physical presence what makes the difference. While in common parlance the notion of mafia is sometimes used as a synonym for organised crime, it worth repeating that this term describes groups with specific and well defined characteristics; to borrow Varese's words, mafia is “a species of a broader genus, organised crime” (Varese, 2001: 4, italic in original). When it comes to the use of the Internet, from the case studies mafia-style groups have been found active in two major domains, even if to a different extent: (1) trafficking activities; (2) illicit gambling. Mafia-style groups have been traditionally involved in both these activities offline. Has the Internet usage merely expanded their criminal reach, or has it modified the criminal panorama in a more meaningful way, as it did for business-like groups? Regarding trafficking activities, mafia-style groups seem still quite reluctant to go online. The Internet is mostly used as a communication tool to avoid wiretappings, but the criminal opportunities it might provide are not exploited in their full potential. As reported by an Italian Anti-mafia Prosecutor, in the Italian scenario only some Camorra groups seem to be more prone to exploit the know-how (economical, legal, or otherwise “technical”) of people from outside the group structure, generally in direct contact with some bosses. This fact limits the possibilities mafia-style groups have to rely on ICTs experts. A common explanation about this reluctance, as reported by many interviewees, is that traditional mafiastyle groups are so successful in their activities that they do not feel the need to change, probably because in most cases they are already very efficient. Moreover, the persons enjoying a higher status in the criminal hierarchies are usually not digital native. It is likely that this situation will change in the forthcoming years, as new generations taking power are used to rely on computer networks for all their routines. If this is the case, it is not surprising that, as reported by some police informers, social media (and especially Facebook) have been used by killers, youngsters at the lowest level of the crime hierarchy, to identify victims and trace their habits. After all, as Smith (2010, p.229) pointed out, developments in technologies “have, on occasion, been acted on by criminals almost immediately, while on other occasions Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) a lapse of time has occurred”. This is true especially when mafia-style groups operate in their traditional territories of origin (regarding the cases observed, Southern Italy). When some Camorra clans or 'Ndrangheta groups operate in northern regions of Italy or abroad, they behave differently: they are more prone to interact with the entrepreneurial world and with persons that do not belong to the mafia association but that could have an expertise on Internet matters (Lavorgna and Sergi, 2014). However, also in these cases mafia-style groups seem to need face-to-face interactions to build trust. In this regard, the following case is emblematic: a criminal network linked to a Camorra clan trafficked cocaine between Naples, Northern Italy, and Spain. For money laundering purposes, high-level members of the network had contacts with a broker and legal consultant with ICTs expertise based in the UK. This broker (a member of a virtual network committed in carrying out these types of illicit operations) basically operated a sophisticated online banking fraud by proposing false investments to wealthy clients. In order to obtain a sufficient level of trust regarding the non-member partner, a meeting was organised offline to discuss the details of the illegal operation. Overall, regarding trafficking activities, it can be concluded that Internet usage does not seem to have significantly changed the social opportunity structure mafia-style groups rely on. A completely different aspect is instead the one concerning the involvement of mafiastyle groups and particularly all Italian mafias in Internet gambling (including, but not limited to, skill-games such as online poker) and in “offline”, traditional gambling (especially horse racing and dog fighting) that is nonetheless advertised via the Internet for instance with YouTube videos (Direzione Nazionale Antimafia, 2012, pp.336ff; Troiano, 2013). As reported by Sergi and Lavorgna (2012), gambling is a major and profitable crime area for some mafia-style groups, which exploit it also for money-laundering purposes: not only are these groups involved with offline clandestine betting, but they also tamper with slot machines that electronically transmit information to the relevant national authority for tax purposes, and manage online casinos. According to most interviewees, and especially to those with more expertise on Italian mafias, gambling is the criminal activity carried out by mafia-style organised groups where Internet usage has more relevance. A likely explanation is that for gambling, differently than for trafficking activities, the Internet offers the possibility to increase the profits in a low risk, high rewards way without affecting the network of social relations at the core of the organisation. Some observations on legislation and policing A common problem observed in the countries considered in this article—and often raised during the interviews—is that contemporary law enforcement and regulatory agencies seem to lack the capacity to control Internet-mediated crimes. It should be noted that a multilevel structure of governance is already operating to regulate cyberspace, maintaining some order (Wall, 2001). The Internet is not lawless. Nonetheless, when it comes to applicable legal principles, the Internet entails several problems because of its peculiar features, such as the instantaneity and potential universality of the traffic, and because substantial differences and gaps still remain between different jurisdictions (Smith et al., 2004, p.105; Koops and Brenner, 2006). These issues are profoundly hindering investigations while offering a considerable advantage to offenders. Regarding legislation, as pointed out by Grabosky (2007, p.159) among others, a major challenge we have to deal with is to find a way to have technologies whose legitimate use is minimally constrained, while their illegitimate use is prevented and discouraged. As summarised by Clough (2010), the evolution of legislation for ICTs followed successive waves, reflecting worries surrounding the misuse of computers. Initially, fears were mostly related to unauthorised access to private information and economic crimes. As the Internet Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) became more and more popular, initial concerns were joined by fears regarding remote attacks on computers, infringement of copyright, and the distribution of child pornography, as it is exemplified by the 2001 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. There are signals that a third wave started: if we consider recent debates in the international policy arena it is possible to note an increasing attention to the role of the Internet as major crime facilitator for traditional crimes, and especially trafficking activities. For instance, during the 2009 meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, a working group on e-commerce of endangered species was created, and the 2010 CITES Conference of the Parties urged major attention to Internetrelated wildlife crimes (Decision 15.58). However, most relevant existing legal frameworks still do not address explicitly the numerous problems (both substantial and procedural) caused by the peculiar features of Internet usage when it comes to traditional serious and organised crimes. With regard to sex trafficking, for instance, in the more recent European directive (Directive 2011/36/EU) the role of the Internet in this criminal activity is never mentioned. So far, the best international legal instrument to consider Internet-mediated trafficking activities remains the Palermo Convention. Even if this Convention is not specifically directed at Internet crimes, it has a significant complementary role for addressing some of the worse aspects of these criminal activities (Broadhurst, 2009; Chambers-Jones, 2012). However, relying on this legal instrument in the Internet age risks to be insufficient in countering OCGs exploiting new criminal opportunities. Because of the transformative impact of the Internet (Wall, 2007, p.39ff), we have seen that changes in the organisation of serious and organised criminal activities entail that also individuals can carry out complex and far-reaching activities, given their possibility of a greater control over the criminal process. In particular, the trafficking activities considered in the Palermo Convention and conventionally linked to the organised crime rhetoric are increasingly run not only by OCGs (mafia-style and not); in many of the cases analysed, criminal networks operating online were composed by very few people, and also by small family groups, couples, and even individuals. As underlined by Brenner (2002, 9ff), logically there are three modalities for criminal activity: “solo commission, collaboration by two people, and activity conducted by three or more people”. Only the third alternative can represent organised criminal activity: a single individual cannot involve organisation, and an organisation of only two persons inherently implies a limited level of harm. Similarly Harding (2007), in considering criminal responsibility in the context of modern organisational activities, underlines that criminal actors work together not only because in certain cases concentration is necessary for a successful criminal outcome. In fact, the organisational framework provides criminals with something qualitatively different, that allows them to have a different delinquent ambition and consequently a different scale of activity compared to the individual offending (199, italic in original). This is why OCGs, as crystallised in legal definitions such as the one in the Palermo Convention, are generally considered more dangerous for national and international security and deserving more attention and resources (Levi, 1998). This theorisation, however, needs to be re-discussed in the Internet environment. In an increasingly Internet-dependent society, it might be opportune and well-timed for both policy-makers and scholars to reconsider taking (often) for granted the transnational organised crime narrative when addressing business-like criminal activities. Otherwise, the risk is that to neglect taking into consideration actors in the criminal process that could be likewise efficient and harmful in carrying out their activities. Another major problem regards policing, and specifically the fact that, while increasing attention is directed towards the policing of cybercrime (in a strict sense) at both the national and regional level (Wall and Williams, 2013) xiv , online investigation of traditional organised crime activities are not yet a commonly used tool for law enforcement. Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) Furthermore, existing regulatory frameworks do not offer yet enough space of manoeuvre and clear directives for law enforcement bodies to operate in the Internet environment. Moreover, from the interviews it clearly emerges that the perception of the extent of the problem of the online presence of traditional OCGs, as well as of Internet-mediated serious and organised criminal activities, differs depending on (1) the ranking in the law enforcement hierarchy of the interviewee and (2) her/his nationality. First, the more the interviewee was someone closer to the operational level, the more he/she recognised the core role played by the Internet also for offline activities nowadays. Secondly, different countries have very different experiences regarding online investigations. Some interviewees suggested that this is because large criminal organisations—which are the main targets of law enforcement—are not extensively using the Internet, and many law enforcement agencies do not have enough resources to tackle also smaller groups. Even when Internet investigations are in the law enforcement agenda, only in the recent past specialised investigative units started to be operativexv, and they are building experience as they go, which reflects on the way in which they approach their workxvi. While interviewees from countries with longer experience regarding online investigations were, for instance, absolutely positive with regard to the use of the surface web to advertise trafficked goods, colleagues from other countries suggested that certain advertisements were merely “frauds” just because the criminal activity was “not concealed enough”. Some of the interviewees identified in the lack of resources and in a generational issue the major problems that law enforcement needs to deal with in the Internet age. Criminal groups are quicker than law enforcement to respond to changes, not only because of the intrinsic limits imposed by obsolete legislation but also because of the lack of adequate human resources. As explained by an American interviewee, to overcome these problems governments are trying to hire in law enforcement bodies more and more people with IT expertise but, especially because of budget costs, it is not easy to attract talents. While it is foreseeable and desirable more interdisciplinarity in law enforcement, this issue needs to be appraised carefully and thoughtfully: a technocratic shift may entail not only new capacities for law enforcement but also the risk to undermine, if not properly balanced, the democratic paradigm in policing. Apart from interdisciplinarity, cooperation should become pivotal. As the Internet provides a new structure of criminal opportunities for offenders, it also affects criminals’ vulnerabilities. In particular, the Internet is changing the dynamics of social and institutional control. It is likely that security in the Internet age will increasingly depend on international cooperation among a wide range of institutions, as well as on victim self-help, market forces, and technology (Grabosky and Smith, 2001: 29). As stressed by Smith (2010), there is a variety of stakeholders—ranging from law enforcement and governments to technology industries and computer users—with an interest in enhancing the control of the Internet environment. However, their efforts as “capable guardians of cyberspace” appear uncoordinated so that success is difficult to achieve (Smith, 2010: 214). Thus, new forms to enhance dialogue, partnerships, and collaborations among these various actors will be essential to counter Internet-mediated activities in an effective and efficient way. Conclusion Criminological research on Internet related crimes is not only the flavour of the month, but it is a real time critical issue. It is not easy to provide a comprehensive description of how and to what extent the Internet is used by OCGs, nor for scholars neither for law enforcement. The complex but intriguing relationship between organised crime and the Internet is still under-investigated, but it is likely that this issue will become critical in the coming years. Despite its limitations, this contribution expects to promote a reflection on the opportunity to Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) integrate Internet crime research, and even more Internet crime investigations, into the everyday routines of criminologists, analysts, and law-enforcement officers (on this point, see also Koops, 2011). Regarding OCGs, it might be the case that some major players in the past and current crime panorama will be challenged by emerging networks, more prone to get the most of new criminal opportunities. However, this does not seem enough to curtly shift attention and resources from the current threats caused by more old-fashioned groups, regardless of the media they rely on. Rather, this urges a serious reflection on the capacity of our current criminological paradigms and definitions to capture current and emerging trends in the criminal scenario. OCGs, as well as new technologies, are continuously evolving. 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(2013), “Policing cybercrime: networked and social media technologies and the challenges for policing”, Policing and Society, vol. 23, no.4, pp.409-412. Williams, Ph. (2001), “Organized crime and cybercrime: Synergies, trends, and responses”. Arresting Transnational Crime. An Electronic Journal of the U.S. Department of State, vol.6, no.2. Biographical note: Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) Anita Lavorgna is a lecturer in criminology at the University of Wolverhampton. i The Budapest Convention covers a broad range of crimes. In particular, in its section concerning substantive criminal law, the Cybercrime Convention deals with four main types of criminal activities: offences against the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of computer data and systems (artt. 2-6), computer-related offences (artt. 7 and 8), content-related offences (art. 9), and offences related to infringements of copyright (art. 10). ii Choo and Smith (2008) have identified three categories of groups exploiting the Internet, namely traditional organised crime, groups ideologically and politically motivated, and organised cyber-criminals. While the first two groups use computer networks only to enhance and facilitate their illegal activities in the real world, organised cyber-criminals operate exclusively online. iii According to the Palermo Convention, an OCG is “a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences established in accordance with this Convention, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit” (art. 2(a)), a “structured group” being “a group that is not randomly formed for the immediate commission of an offence and that does not need to have formally defined roles for its members, continuity of its membership or a developed structure” (art. 2c)). iv With reference to gangs rather than organised crime, it is worth mentioning the works of, among others, Morselli and Décary-Hetu (2013) and Pyrooz et al. (2013). v Until now, there is some anecdotal evidence but little research on what type of OCGs use the Internet, and to what degree. Some OCGs are reported to have entered the Internet environment in a significant way, for instance Russian mafias (Kshetri, 2010, p.143). Also the prior criminal experience of some Asian OCGs seems to be compatible with the Internet (Grabosky, 2007; Kshetri, 2010, p.14). vi PhD thesis entitled: “Transit crimes in the Internet age: How new online criminal opportunities affect the organization of offline transit crimes”, School of International Studies, University of Trento (Italy), 20102014. vii Another factor that might be relevant is that, when online, some criminal activities might go unnoticed and, if community safety is not perceived at risk, interventions are less likely. Therefore, if selling drugs in the physical world might be included in a spiral of signalling effect of urban disorder in a certain area, when the same activity occurs online there is no perception of a social order that needs to be restored. viii Some of these findings have been anticipated in Lavorgna and Sergi (2014) according to a more subtle distinction in four different types of OCGs. ix The idea of comparing OCGs to business companies is not new. The enterprise model proposed by D.C. Smith Jr. in the mid-1970s has been one of the first contributions suggesting how organised crime is based on the same assumptions as legitimate business organisations, i.e. the economic considerations that drive every company to maintain and extend their share of the market (Smith Jr, 1975; 1978). In the following decades, the vision of a Homo Economicus Criminalis (McCarthy, 2011, p.22) as a metaphor to enlighten the understanding of organised crime has become more and more common. x With reference to the Italian situation, Lavorgna and Sergi (2014) described business-like groups as “mixed criminal networks”. xi It should be noted that Internet usage has been mainly found in the final stages of the trafficking chain in the destination countries, where clients come into play. This suggests that actors involved in the trafficking chain in the countries of origin and those operating at the international level still tend to rely on already established social and economic opportunity structures for their businesses. An exception is given for cases of human trafficking, where the use of the Internet seems to have deeply affected the initial part of the trafficking chain, in particular by changing radically the recruitment of victims. Downloaded by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO At 02:51 24 March 2015 (PT) xii In this way physical interactions with travel agents that could become suspicious in the long run are eliminated. In many cases, moreover, personal data are digitally conserved for short periods of time to meet privacy regulations, so that it could become extremely hard for law enforcement to acquire evidence. xiii Regarding the criminal activity, the threshold varies depending not only on the degree of illegality of the act (e.g., being new psychoactive substances in a “grey area”, their online trade is less concealed than the one in traditional drugs), but also and most importantly on the social perception of such an illegal act. For instance, with regard to trafficking in traditional drugs, trafficking in cannabis—even in countries where this is absolutely illegal—is socially considered as less reprehensible than trafficking in heroine, so that the online trade of the former is less concealed than that of the latter. A possible explanation, corroborated by some of the interviews, is that offenders are aware that law enforcement does not have enough resources and capabilities to monitor and investigate the enormous Internet environment. In cyberspace informal social control has an increasing role in monitoring and reporting criminal behaviours online (McGuire, 2007, p.7), but this social safety system does not work properly when the criminal activity is not perceived as dangerous or harmful, and when its visibility is somehow limited to online social spaces built for people with the same system of values and beliefs (e.g., online forums dedicated to drug users). xiv Emblematic in this sense is the creation of the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, launched in January 2013 to strengthen the law enforcement response to cybercrime in the EU. Its mandate and its focal points largely reflect the vision of treating cybercrimes and Internet-mediated crimes as separate realities, with most of the attention—and resources—on the former. xv For instance, in Italy the eUnit of the Central Directorate for Anti-Drug Services was created in March 2012. At least for the moment being, however, this unit is mainly used for monitoring the web. Its officers do not have the legal means to operate as undercover agents, which limits their operative capacities. xvi For instance, one of the interviewees with experience on cross-border drug trafficking cases was confident in saying that English is used as lingua franca in cross-border drug trafficking, but other interviewees admitted that in monitoring the Internet they generally only use their national languages.