By Dean Takahashi Tracking criminals in virtual worlds
I’ve been wondering what would happen if there were drug dealers or terrorists lurking in virtual worlds such as Second Life. If the FBI or National Security Agency wanted to place wiretaps on conversations in those worlds, would they be able to do it? And if they did record conversations in virtual worlds, could the people spied upon escape prosecution by saying that they were only pretending to be terrorists or drug dealers?
My interest is theoretical at the moment. Interpol has said there are criminal elements operating in virtual worlds, but let’s not panic. There is enough fear-mongering out there about all the trouble we can get into online.But this topic is a persistent one at conferences such as Virtual Worlds, which drew more than a thousand people to San Jose last week.
Under current laws, the authorities can’t conduct fishing expeditions. They can’t order companies to incur huge expenses building eavesdropping systems in the virtual worlds that would make it easy to reclaim conversations from a long time ago, said Jim Dempsey, policy director of the civil liberties group Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C.
In other words, the government can’t ransack an entire virtual town just to find one possible drug dealer. The Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures hold true in cyberspace as they do in the real world.
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