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Cyber Crime Transforms Legal Landscape

Lindsay Mangum, NPR

In the eyes of the law, the Web still resembles the Wild West.

From free-flowing blogs to social networks and Wikipedia, creating legal regulations for behavior on the Web is a specialty evolving as rapidly as innovations on the Internet.

An increasing number of law schools are tackling the challenge. At universities around the country, students study controversial issues such as online privacy and who has jurisdictional power over Internet content.

At Harvard University, visiting cyber law expert Jonathan Zittrain instructs students on the rapidly changing laws of cyberspace and the explosion of cyber crime. Zittrain says there is "no central authority" that enforces cyber law when crimes are committed. Plaintiffs still turn to traditional law enforcement to solve problems.

But Zittrain says that self-policing communities on the Internet often act as their own law enforcement, tipping others off when a user is dishonest or enforcing politeness standards on Web sites.

Maintaining legal, political, and technological standards on the Internet is increasingly important, as cyber attacks take a greater toll. In a 2007 survey by the Computer Security Institute, the average loss to individual U.S. corporations, agencies and institutions from cyber attacks more than doubled from 2006, to $350,424. Total losses from cyber attacks were $66.9 million, with financial fraud incurring the most damage at $21.1 million in total losses.

In the second report in a four-part series, Liane Hansen spoke to Zittrain about law in cyberspace and the explosion of cyber crime.

Weekend Edition Sunday's month-long series on Cyber Crime was produced by Davar Ardalan and Laura Krantz and edited by Jenni Bergal.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.