State and local police take aim at Internet criminals
November 7, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- State and local police are changing the way they work in an effort to catch up with the rapidly- growing virtual society that is the Internet.
Special Agent C.D. Wells is just one of a team of seven Virginia State Police undercover officers who comprise a unit targeting Internet crimes.
Wells patrols the Information Superhighway from the comfort of an office chair, often by lurking in chatrooms and trying to lure potential criminals. Various cases have prompted him to pose as an 8-year-old child, a 13-year-old girl and even a 65-year-old man.
"Often I will assume the identity of a child that is being pursued by a sexual predator," explains Wells. Although about 80 percent of his caseload involves child pornography and sex offenders, his cases can run the gamut from violations of cellular phone laws to manslaughter.
The Virginia State Police unit is one of a growing number of Internet police squads, trying to maintain law and order on the "e-frontier."
The growth of Internet crime is reflected by increased efforts by police to stop it.
In Los Angeles County, California, the district attorney's office says 20 percent of its cases involve stalking and threats sent by e-mail and other electronic communications.
Cases investigated by Wells and other so-called "cyber-cops" are making their way through the courts, creating a new legal specialty: Internet law.
Internet cases are raising substantial legal and constitutional questions. "I think that civil liberties types will make an argument that the lure of chat lines may be too much. And maybe that will not be a fair use of the limited rights granted police authorities to use entrapments," says John Roberts, an attorney specializing in Internet law.
The federal Justice Department is currently preparing a review on Internet crime, which is due before the end of this year.
Correspondent Jonathan Aiken contributed to this report.
Is it time for Net cops?
American Civil Liberties Union
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