Once the Internet became the next big thing, legislators did not anticipate the rapid growth, or the types of online behaviors that would require new laws to protect innocent users.
More than two decades later, state and federal governments have passed several laws to address the problem of criminal activities that take place over the Internet. Enforcing them, however, is a different matter.
One of the major challenges of cybercrime investigations is that even when investigators manage to locate the criminals, taking them into custody may not be possible due to lack of jurisdiction over them. Jurisdiction is one of the major constraints that impacts the results of cyber prosecution. Another big problem facing this serious issue is getting cooperation between law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Cybercrime is a transnational crime, and solving the issue of cyber jurisdiction requires nations to work on harmonizing laws, and maintaining cooperation between law enforcement agencies worldwide.
"You never know what state law to use or what federal law to use," said Jessica Bennett, Administrative Assistant and Computer Forensic Specialist with the Marion County Law Office.
It all boils down to location. A law enforcement agency or court only has jurisdiction over crimes that take place in the geographic location where that agency has authority. Before a law enforcement agency can investigate a cybercrime case, it has to have the jurisdiction.
"It's usually very hard, especially through the legal system with all the search warrants that we have to obtain for the information, plus trying to work with all the other companies, and usually with the prosecutor we still end up having to go to the FBI because it's out of our jurisdiction," said Detective Jeanette Williamson, with the Marion County Sheriff's Department.
This is more difficult in cybercrime cases than in other types of crime because often the perpetrator is not in the same city, state or even country as the victim.
"You never really know technically where the perpetrator may be at, so it does require a multi-agency approach. What West Virginia does in terms of search warrants for computers does not apply to Pennsylvania's laws or any other state law across those borders," said Bennett.
For officials, work still needs to be done to maintain communication and understanding when these types of crimes occur.
Government officials have tried to adopt laws outlawing specific types of cybercrime, and take legislative or other measures to ensure that their law enforcement personnel can cooperate with prosecutors in the investigation of these crimes to put cyber criminals behind bars.