In the fight against cybercrime, the police are experimenting with the use of people who do not work for the police. Citizens with specialist digital knowledge help the police solve cybercrime cases during a hackathon. To determine how far citizens can go in this regard, the Public Prosecution Service is conducting a trial process.
At a so-called hackathon, dozens of technical specialists look at thirty issues, such as scams via Tinder, crypto fraud or a hack of a server that manages data from power installations. “These must be matters of some importance,” says public prosecutor Georges van den Eshof. “For example, cases where pre-trial detention is possible, and cases with a major social impact.”
In one of the cases, a computer criminal pretends to be the singer Frank Boeijen. The suspect convinces a fan that the singer is in need of money, after which the victim transfers 200,000 euros.
“My normal job is to digitally secure a ministry,” says one of the participants in the video below. “These types of events are great fun, to get a feel for what it’s all about: how do we keep all those criminals out?
‘I look at the same data with a completely different view’
Police figures show that cybercrime, such as phishing, WhatsApp fraud and cryptocurrency scams, has increased enormously in recent years. “You see that traditional crime, such as burglaries and robberies, is decreasing,” says cyber lawyer Michael Bernsen. “There is now more digital crime.”
According to him, the police do have the knowledge, but it is the quantity that causes a problem. “The capacity is insufficient. Solving them is intensive, you can often only catch them when they make a mistake.”
Where is the border?
“Citizen investigation can be very useful for the police,” says Sven Brinkhoff, professor of criminal law at the University of Amsterdam. “But it is very difficult to determine where the boundaries lie. For example, can you outsource all the investigation to a citizen, or can I show him or her part of the file, as is now happening in this example?”
The justice department wants clarity about this and is therefore consciously heading for a trial process. “Cyber cases have not yet been resolved in this form. A judge must rule on this, because it is fairly uncharted territory,” says Van den Eshof.
By sharing investigative information with technical specialists, the police and the Public Prosecution Service hope to identify a suspect who can be prosecuted on that basis. A court must then rule on this.
If they don’t follow the rules, they can face criminal charges.
Georges van den Eshof, public prosecutor
It is good that a judge checks whether this is allowed, and if so: under what conditions,” says Brinkhoff. “Citizen investigation can really help the police, that is positive. On the other hand, it is very difficult to control. How do you keep the citizen in check so that he does not go too far in the way of collecting information? And what does a criminal judge do if it turns out that information has not been obtained in accordance with the privacy rules?”
Public prosecutor Van den Eshof admits that you can never completely rule out the possibility that participants will not come away with certain information. “But we are on top of it, and if they don’t follow the rules they can face criminal charges.”