Saturday, July 4, 2015

Seminar 3 Position Statement Prof. Mike Levi, Criminology, Cardiff University

Technology, Privacy and Economic Crimes

In the criminological firmament, white-collar and organised crime have been treated as two separate dimensions of criminal behaviour, except that as Sutherland argued in the 1930s, they were both learned in ‘differential association’. They were reacted to differently, the latter being seen as a threat to ‘society’ or to the ‘corporate state’, while attacks on the former were seen as the preserve of political ‘radicals’.  This difference has been embraced by conventional researchers and scholars, who like to view themselves as one or the other as a form of identity politics: though ‘organised crime’ scholars from Alan Block onwards have shown the ways in which gangsters were used by US corporations to break strikes and by the US government to eliminate Italian communists post-war and then later Latin American communists.  There have been parallel analyses of the prioritisation and powers of enforcement agencies and, to a much more limited extent, of the role of the media in relation to business/political elites and gangsters. This white-collar/organised crime disjunction has begun to break up somewhat under the pressure of research in Central and Eastern Europe showing the interpenetration of organised criminals and politicians locally - especially in countries like Bulgaria and Romania – in regimes more democratic than Russia. 

I will examine the role played by technology and privacy arguments in the commission and in the ‘policing’ of the range of economic crimes – a rather loose term used more in continental Europe.  It is a common phenomenon that there is a partial shift in the application of policing models used for organised crime to at least some forms of white-collar crime, e.g. plea bargaining for sentencing reductions and non-prosecutions (currently used in the FIFA case), sometimes using covert wires (e.g. Boesky in the 1980s) plus sometimes Sting operations.  Given the Snowden and other revelations, one might have expected a large range of material on economic misconduct by and against elites to be within the purview of the agencies.  The question is does anyone look at this or do anything about it, or is their main task ‘national security threats’, again loosely defined?  

Given the raised profile of regulatory agencies, and the volume of data sought by police and regulatory investigators nationally and cross-border, the whole issue of corporate privacy and the privacy of actions taken in a corporate context become relevant.  Who has ownership of these?  Under what conditions are they made available to the authorities (e.g. News International)?  And given that so many major financial services firms have come under serious assault in relation to acts done for individual and/or corporate self-interest (e.g. money laundering, LIBOR, FOREX), how is dataveillance developing in the corporate sphere and what are the implications for the public sphere? What are the implications of growing ‘responsibilisation’ of regulated entities to monitor potential and actual clients and report suspicions (if any) to financial intelligence units, and what issues does this raise for both liberty and effectiveness of controls?  Finally, what are the intersections between these developments and the practice of journalism in different parts of the world?

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