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It’s no secret that the world gets smaller every year.   Globalization of industry and trade has created ever-expanding opportunities, sometimes to the detriment of businesses and individuals.  The internet is a critical variable in this equation as it delivers instant access to resources worldwide and produces a growing industry focused on cyber-crime.

There is a familiar saying that history tends to repeat itself.  And considering the wider implications of cyber-crime, these words ring true.  With 2021 reporting a 27% increase in cyber-crimes, it’s easy to conclude that piracy in the cyber seas is alive and well.   Taking cues from history, it’s worth looking back at the practice of piracy on the high seas and drawing some correlations to modern-day activities.

Much like the internet of the modern age, shipping vessels were the historical instrument for connecting geographically separated countries across the globe.  The globalization of trade began in the 1400s and was transformed by shipping vessels that could traverse the oceans to exchange various goods and services.   Unfortunately (for ship owners), established trade routes created opportunities for pirates looking to reap financial gains from goods that could easily be high jacked on the high seas.  The internet has made the same type of opportunity for cyber pirates.

So how can we learn from lessons of the past?  Looking back at high sea piracy, by the early 1700’s increased military presence and international anti-piracy laws banished almost every single pirate and finally put an end to the Golden Age of Piracy.  Because piracy was regarded as an offense against the law of nations, public vessels from any state were allowed to seize a pirate ship, bring it into port, try the crew (regardless of their nationality or domicile), and, if they were found guilty, punish them (including confiscating the ship).  The same international law afforded pirates no protection under home state, national character, or vessel and defined Piracy Jure Gentium as an ‘international crime.’

Shifting the timeline to current events, it’s clear that there is still work to be done on the cyber-crime front.  In 2002, the Commonwealth of Nations presented a model law on cybercrime that provides a legal framework to harmonize legislation within the Commonwealth and enable international cooperation. The model law was intentionally drafted by the Convention on Cybercrime.  Much like piracy on the high seas was in its day, cybercrime is an evolving form of transnational crime. Perpetrators of cybercrime and their victims can be in different regions. Its effects can ripple through societies worldwide, highlighting the need to mount an urgent, dynamic, and international response.

Lessons learned from high sea piracy laws highlight the need for unilateral laws and decisive action to stop cyberpiracy.  Much of the motivation behind historic piracy laws rested on the fact that countries across the globe shared the pain inflicted by these actions.  The same stance needs to be adopted for cyber-crimes; unfortunately, countries that sponsor and condone these activities undermine the adoption of universal and enforceable laws.

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