British Columbia

Convicting cybercriminals no easy task, UBC prof says

Prof. Bejamin Perrin says it's difficult to get cybercrime convictions due to challenges tracking criminals online.

Amanda Todd case shines light on how Canadian justice system deals with cybercrime

'What really get's challenging is that the internet is global, it knows no national boundaries,' says UBC Prof. Benjamin Perrin, author of Victim Law: The Law of Victims of Crime in Canada.

A UBC law professor says our justice system faces immense challenges apprehending and convicting cybercriminals.

Benjamin Perrin is the author of Victim Law: The Law of Victims of Crime in Canada, and he says the tragic story of B.C. teenager Amanda Todd is one of many similar cases he has encountered during his research.

"Unfortunately … it is not an isolated situation we have in the Amanda Todd case," Perrin told guest host Gloria Macarenko during On the Coast.

On Thursday, an Amsterdam judge sentenced Aydin Coban, the man accused of blackmailing Todd, to the maximum sentence requested by the Crown, ten years and eight months, for abusing 34 young girls and five men — cases unrelated to Todd's.

Amanda Todd, 15, took her own life in 2012 after posting a video online detailing her story of relentless harassment. (RIPAmandaTodd/Facebook)

Following the Netherlands court proceedings, Coban is facing extradition to Canada on five separate charges, including Todd's case.

Coban has appealed the extradition.

Prof. Perrin said cybercrime is a difficult and largely unprecedented area for law enforcement. A major issue facing the justice system is accurately tracking criminal behaviour, he said.

Perrin added one of the biggest obstacles for prosecutors is proving the identity of the accused.

"That they are the person at the computer typing these messages, and that it wasn't someone who created that account out of thin air or otherwise had access to their Wi-Fi or their computer."

'Unprecedented access to victims'

Beyond tracking crime, Perrin said law enforcement is still learning how to tackle the widespread prevalence and accelerated growth of social media.

He said the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized how the extreme development of digital tools (social media) over the last decade has allowed for unprecedented access to victims and new avenues for offenders.

"Over 80 per cent of Canadians are online and about 20 million are active on one or more social media networks," said Perrin.

Perrin's research into victims in Canada found more than 2,000 reported court decisions that deal with social media platforms — including online games. He said crimes included extortion, sexual offences, harassment and uttering threats.

"It comes down to prevention, we cannot possibly police the internet. The number of officers we have online is a fraction of what we would need to do that," said Perrin.

"Parent's need to get a handle on this technology ... We need to help our kids understand how to live their lives online."

International cooperation

"Because these are international crimes, but they cross borders where we have national laws, you do get into a difficult situation," said Perrin.

He said fortunately Canada and Holland have excellent legal treaties that will allow the legal process to be expedited.

Perrin said it's up to the Netherlands how the extradition process will go forward.

He said if Coban's appeal is turned down, the Netherlands will decide if Coban is committed to his sentence right away, in which case the extradition could take over a decade. 

The other option, Perrin said, is that he comes to Canada soon for trial and, if convicted, a discussion would ensue about where his sentence should be served.

With files from On the Coast 

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: How do you convict a cyber criminal?