Early Computer Crime

In the early 1990s I wrote this paper which set out how I perceived matters at the time. Much of what I feared has come to pass. Ten years earlier I wrote The Computer in Court. For a good link to modern up to date materials look at the bottom of this page.

The Computer in Court

In 1981 Richard Sizer and I wrote a book on the admissibility and reliability of computer evidence called "The Computer in Court". At the time I was a young patents barrister who had been making my name in civil computer software litigation and Richard Sizer was Chairman of the Professional Advisory Committee of the British Computer Society and an acknowledged expert on computer security. We had previously written a Special Report for the British Computer Society with the less than thrilling title "Admissibility and Reliability of Computer Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases" which had been submitted as evidence of a need for a change in the law to the Home Office (and which subsequently led to the inclusion of Section 69 regarding Computer Evidence in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984). But back in 1981 we simply wanted to put their ideas before a wider public.

Although, at the time, I had virtually no practical experience in criminal law I came up with the idea of an imaginary court case in which a person was wrongly accused of a crime through the failure of his employer to adopt proper data processing practices. Mindful of my then lack of practical criminal experience and the fact that the imaginary "Misleading Cases" of Sir Alan Herbert were sometimes cited in foreign jurisdictions as being actual judgements of the UK courts, I set about ensuring that there would be no such confusion by giving all the names of the characters in the imaginary case the names of up-market ice creams in a branch of Baskin Robbins.

Hence welcome to the world of Professor Chocolate Chip, Mr Honey-Bunny as Counsel for the Defence and Mr Toffee-Almond, Counsel for the Prosecution. The fictional case anticipated the general use of bar coding in retail sales and the use of video in the courtroom. Subsequently in an English Law Commission Report on Computer Evidence the analysis of the issues set out by Richard and I was cited with approval.

The book went out of print during the 1980s and, in consequence, all rights reverted to Richard and I. In 2002 I updated it and and published "The Computer in Court" as an e-book with an Epilogue which explained "What happened next?". It sat around until 2011 when I finally got round to putting it on my personal site.

Today if you need to know anything about the issues which were first addressed in The Computer in Court (and issues which have emerged since then) your best resource on the internet is a journal called Digital Evidence and Electronic Signature Law Review which is produced by the barrister Stephen Mason Through his recent good efforts the entire journal is now available as open source subject to you giving a proper acknowledgment of the source. All of the articles within it are also available via university library electronic subscription services.