According to an article published by the BBC, Technology behind ‘all serious crime’, per analysis of a report by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency. It ought to come as no surprise that a rise in technology us–in general–should correspond to a rise in tech-savvy criminals. However, what categories of crime were covered by the report itself, and is the headline of the piece warranted or sensationalized?

I'm not saying it's ninjas, but it's ninjas.

Europe’s depiction of the culprits.

What did the report include as serious crime; murder, rape, human trafficking? Only the third category was mentioned in the report at length but didn’t make the BBC’s summary. The BBC focused on increased technology use to facilitate burglaries, black market drug trade, and ransomware.

For instance, said the report, drones were now being used to transport drugs and many burglars now track social media posts to work out when people are away from their home.

It’s long-established libertarian doctrine that the violence related to the drug trade accompanies resistance to the enforcement of laws prohibiting drugs. Mark Thornton’s analysis of alcohol Prohibition (a fair proxy for comparison) in the United States published by the Cato Institute, described it as a “miserable failure on all counts.” His analysis includes a graph of homicide rates depicting a steady rise during the Prohibition era and the precipitous drop in murders after Prohibition’s repeal in 1933.

Can anyone say, 'unintended consequences'?

Source: Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 157: Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure, pg. 7.

Given libertarians’ stringent belief in self-ownership and the fact that drug use itself is a victimless crime, drug addiction cannot be rightly called a “serious” crime. Exchange of contraband items, provided that no people are exploited or otherwise harmed in the exchange, is similarly not of a serious nature.

It stands to reason that with the rise in the use of drones, or quadcopters as many aficionados prefer to call them, for drug delivery, one might expect an accompanying decrease in drug-related violence. Fewer contacts between human beings–drug traffickers and law enforcement as well traffickers with one another–may correspond to fewer homicides to protect drug profits kept artificially high by prohibition.

An increase in home burglaries corresponding to use of social media to determine times when the victims are unlikely to be home is concerning, and invasion of homes are of a more serious nature than petty thefts and shoplifting. However, it also seems reasonable that a decrease in violence due to burglars encountering residents unexpectedly may occur. Property crimes are, of course, of a less serious nature than homicides and other forms of physical violence. An investigation is required. An overall rise in burglaries may also negate any reduction in burglary-related homicides, should the rise in technology use prove causative for the increased rate of burglaries.

Much of the Europol report focuses on organized crime activities that facilitate drug trafficking and further organized crime (e.g. document fraud, money laundering, etc.), which strains credibility to characterize as “serious” in their own right. The intersection between technology use and human trafficking may have been omitted from the BBC’s summary for a reason. Europol’s 2016 situation report, Trafficking in human beings in the EU, did show a rise in reports of human trafficking, but it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate an increase in human trafficking itself. In that report, Europol says:

No distinctive trend in this variation of data was recognised as linked to any particular fact. A possible reason could be that Europol is increasingly being addressed by MS law enforcement for the provision of operational support during cross-border THB investigations.

Thus, the rise may simply be an increase in reporting to Europol itself rather than a bona fide increase in human trafficking.

The brevity of the BBC summary of the Europol report may be subtle justification for expanded law enforcement intrusion into citizens’ privacy under the pretense of reducing crime. The UK government has an interest in softening widespread hostility to the recently-implemented Investigatory Powers Act of 2016, or “Snoopers’ Charter” as opponents have popularly characterized it. The report itself doesn’t warrant that conclusion, as it is unclear whether technology use in crime is causative of the increase of crimes like burglaries or tracking a trend that accompanies higher immigration, drops in economic prosperity, and other factors known to influence crime levels. Too many issues are simply not addressed by the BBC article or Europol in its report to form any conclusions about whether technology use itself has increased serious crime regardless of the definition of “serious crime” they’re using.