The law is not a stagnant thing. It is constantly changing, evolving, and adapting to new situations and new crimes that must be identified and understood so appropriate laws can be passed to protect honest people from the dishonest ones. This can be a tricky process, especially in this age when crimes using the internet make detection and evidence so difficult.
Identity theft is a perfect example of a crime that should be aggressively attacked by the legal community. But because it is a crime that is always changing and adapting, it is sometimes difficult for the legal community to get a firm definition of what identity theft is and particularly how to codify it into a system of laws that can be used to effectively stop it.
Probably the biggest problem with enforcing laws that will lead to the conviction of identity thieves is to develop ways to keep the evidence long enough to seek a conviction. Until we can give law enforcement sufficient tools both to identify and capture identity theft criminals and then to gather sufficient evidence to get a conviction, identity theft will continue to be an allusive enemy.
Unlike a murder where there is a weapon and a corpse or bank robbery where there are physical forms of evidence, much of the footprint of identity theft occurs in cyberspace where there are few fingerprints, and tracing the path of the criminal is difficult at best. In that way, tracking down identity thieves resembles the problems legal experts have in defining and then tracking down cyber stalkers or pornography merchants who can be so elusive in an online world.
Consumers who are hit with identity theft face two challenges. One is to stop the continued stealing by thieves who can continue to do their damage even after the crime has been identified. The other is to find the criminals and make it stop. Consumers are frustrated because law enforcement hits roadblocks in their investigations of identity theft cases. But law enforcement professionals are also frustrated because those who might have the evidence they need to capture, prosecute and convict identity thieves often no longer have that evidence that is desperately needed to stop this unique 21st-century crime.
In order to give law enforcement what they need, companies that sell consumer data must be regulated more closely. One big “hole” in the legal system which favors identity thieves and puts consumers at a disadvantage is that businesses that resell consumer data do not have to notify consumers when their data is being passed along to another agency. Therefore, once a consumer provides his or her private data to a company, that data can be packaged and resold without restriction to as many buyers who care to line up to buy it and the consumer has no idea this is going on.
So this is a level of consumer protection that can be addressed legally by requiring any company that collects buyer information must be required to notify consumers when that data is being sold and who they are selling it to. If every consumer can retain a complete trail of who is getting their private information, that would empower the private sector to partner with the legal community to put a stop to this level of crime.
If further laws could be improved to require longer retention of transactions of this nature and open access of those records to law enforcement, we would be giving our legal system the weapons they need to stop this crime. And that would be a step forward for all society to make the world, the cyber world included, a safer place for all of us.