In Just Two Decades, Technology Has Become A Cornerstone Of Criminality

Twenty years ago, a computer defeated the world’s leading chess player; Steve Jobs re-joined Apple and countries agreed to merge two specialised bodies to form the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Back then, despite the steady march of progress, the Internet was just starting to impact homes and offices. Crime was mostly low tech. There was no global agreement on heinous crimes such as human trafficking, and not everyone considered corruption a crime. Some viewed it, wrongly, as the price of doing business.

Fast forward 20 years, and criminals are the unintended beneficiaries of technology and globalisation. We have prospered from our high-speed, high-tech world, but the criminals have been gifted a digital platform on which to develop their illicit businesses. Technology and globalization enable criminals to work across regions; increasing their reach, their crimes and their profits. Just as the Internet has transformed every aspect of our lives, it has also become a cornerstone of criminality.

What happens in the bright sunshine of the Internet echoes in the far murkier depths of the dark web. The Internet helps companies sell their legitimate goods, but it allows criminals to sell drugs, firearms, and endangered wildlife. Social media websites give millions the ability to share their joyful experiences, while the dark web protects the privacy of criminals who are also networking and building relationships. Accepted by the financial world, the explosion of Crypto-currencies is helping criminals launder money and lower the detection risk.

Throughout these developments, UNODC has also adapted. We offer countries advice on combatting borderless cybercrime, including the callous exploitation of children. Assistance is delivered through specialist bodies designed to stop trafficking or promote judicial integrity; and cooperation is provided in every region. The result is a solid alliance against illicit drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism covering the globe.

Close cooperation is a necessity if we are to succeed against these challenges. Terrorists are using technology to incite and recruit. The spread of violent extremist ideologies, including in prisons, has been connected to some appalling terrorist outrages in Europe. We are also facing links between the terrorists and the criminals. Crimes such as human trafficking, cigarette smuggling and trafficking in cultural property are generating funds for the terrorists to maim and kill.

There are positive developments that spread awareness and support UNODC’s advocacy. Social media is driving participation, including celebrity involvement, in some of the world’s biggest issues. As just one example, on 24th October, UNODC’s Goodwill Ambassador for Belgium, and music star, Ozark Henry, gave a benefit concert on behalf of our Blue Heart Campaign for human trafficking victims. Advertised using social media, this event is ensuring that a new generation enjoys themselves, while appreciating the cruelty of human trafficking.

Our 20th year of actions against the criminals is an opportunity to review our efforts, and renew our cooperation with partners. UNODC has come a long way since 1997; but in these transformative times, we must remain nimble and adaptive to address future crises, help achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and build safer, more secure societies. After 20 years, we are not looking back, but moving forward to new challenges and opportunities to help make the world safer.