The human factor in cybercrime and terrorism

29 juni 2016

European researchers presented a position paper on cybercrime and terrorism at the Netherlands Permanent Representation on 26 May. Criminological research shows that the human factor is of paramount importance in understanding and combating these crimes.

The importance of empirical evidence

Crime policies are often based on implicit assumptions about offenders and offender behaviour that are seldom explicated or put to the empirical test. An empirical evidence base is most urgently needed for cybercrime and terrorism/extremism: traditional sanctions for these crimes are increasingly unsuitable or unavailable, extremist attacks may end in the death of perpetrators, and cybercriminals are often outside of the reach of (supra)national justice agencies. Incorporating the human factor into research on cybercrime and terrorism is crucial for effective crime policies.

The human factor

European crime and security research has however so far largely overlooked the human factor in crime: studies have mainly focused on criminal structures and organisations and macro factors, but disregarded human agency. Life-course criminology studies should map patterns and factors contributing to the entry into crime, continuity, and desistance, linking specifically with the role of transnational organised crime. Once these trajectories and factors have been mapped, policies to spot offenders and intervene can be developed and the security agenda complemented.

Sentinel data

Next, sentinel data are essential to establish trends in cybercrime, in its interrelationships with economic crime and organised crime. Sentinel data on terrorism would enable to combine the spotty evidence from insular occurrences to establish patterns in offenders' steps on the radicalisation path, to enable to acknowledge regional variations (e.g. Syria, IS, Maghreb, and right-wing terrorist acts).

A European approach

A European approach may be the only way to achieve this, as national research initiatives do not reflect the transnational nature of these crimes and will not generate access to data stored with various criminal justice and national security agencies. Constructing such a database will however need to overcome national security barriers and involve high-level cooperation.

The 26 May seminar was well-attended, and follow-up discussions have already taken place. Strengthening empirical research into this human factor will boost the quality of policy as well as interventions to create a safer Europe.

More information

Publication NSCR: Terrorism and Cybercrime: the Human Factor

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