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International review of criminal policy - Nos. 43 and 44/Introduction


1. When future historians scrutinize the second half of the twentieth century, they will be reviewing what is sure to be known as the Information Revolution. Humankind has progressed further in the last 50 years than in any other period of history. One of the reasons for this rapid advance in technology is the computer. Technological capabilities have increased at an accelerating pace, permitting ever larger and more sophisticated systems to be conceived and allowing ever more sensitive and critical functions to be assigned to them.

2. Indeed, the world is undergoing a second Industrial Revolution. Information technology today touches every aspect of life, irrespective of location on the globe. Everyone's daily activities are affected in form, content and time by the computer. Businesses, Governments and individuals all receive the benefits of this Information Revolution. While providing tangible benefits in time and money, the computer has also had an impact on everyday life, as computerized routines replace mundane human tasks. More and more of out businesses, industries, economies, hospitals and Governments are becoming dependent on computers. Computers are not only used extensively to perform the industrial and economic functions of society but are also used to perform many functions upon which human life itself depends. medical treatment and air traffic control are but two examples. Computers are also used to store confidential data of a political, social, economic or personal nature. They assist in the improvement of economies and of living conditions in all countries. Communications, organizational functioning and scientific and industrial progress have developed so rapidly with computer technology that our form of living has changed irreversibly.

3. With the computer, the heretofore impossible has now become possible, The computer has allowed large volumes of data to be reduced to high-density, compact storage, nearly imperceptible to the human senses, It has allowed an exponential increase in speed, and even the most complex calculations can be completed in milliseconds. The miniaturization of processors has permitted worldwide connectivity and communication. Computer literacy continues grow.

4. The burgeoning of the world of information technologies has, however, a negative side: it has opened the door to antisocial and criminal behavior in ways that would never have previously been possible. Computer systems offer some new and highly sophisticated opportunities for law-breaking, and they create the potential to commit traditional types of crimes in non-traditional ways. In addition to suffering the economic consequences of computer crime, society relies on computerized systems for almost everything in life, from air, train and bus traffic control to medical service coordination and national security. Even a small glitch in the operation of these systems con put human lives in danger. Society's dependence on computer systems, therefore, has a profound human dimension. The rapid transnational expansion of large-scale computer networks and the ability to access many systems through regular telephone lines increases the vulnerability of these systems and the opportunity for misuse or criminal activity. The consequences of computer crime may have serious economic costs as well as serious costs in terms of human security.

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