HTML clipboard 1 Million Members in Second life.. What does it mean?

Ever since www.secondlife.com was started, it has thrown up interesting challenges to the Cyber Laws community. There have already been a couple of cases filed in the real world regarding “Fraud” or “Proeprty theft” in the secondlife.com space. Now, the founder of second life.com, Philip Rosedale has reported that though  the secondlife.com membership has crossed 1 million he is concerned about the increasing number of crimes in second life.com involving property thefts.

It appears that there is an increasing demand by this second life inhabitants that there should be better “law and order” in the second life.com world. It is also reported that the linden currency dropped off under the threat of a malicious programme called “CopyBot” which could duplicate virtual property on second life and recovered only after some security warnings from the administrators.  See this report

All these may look like fancy stuff to be laughed away. Afterall secondlife.com is a “Virtual Game” in which particpants acquire chosen avatars and lead a life of their own. But there is a link between this virtual world and the real world through the financial route. Since the game currency “Linden” is convertible into “US dollars”, any player may make financial gains and losses in real world through his activities in the virtual world of second life. Similarly, just like other social networking sites, certain virtual relationships may transform into real world relationships. Some of them may be for a good end result. But some may end up in some kind of a damage in the physical world. This is when the real world wakes up to the implications of “Converegence of Virtual living and real world living”.

I was just watching a TV programme on Crimes in AXN channel (CSI:NY) which involved a story where a character makes extensive use of Second life and its avatars in planning and executing a real world political murder. This was Internet fiction at its creative best but leaves a thought behind that such things can in deed happen.

We know from “Scientific fictions” and “Crime Fictions” that what starts as “Fiction”  often turns out to be the reality in future. Hence we cannot rule out the possibility of today’s fiction playing out in reality.

Cyber Sociologists need to do therefore do extensive research on the second life world and try to understand the motivations of the inhabitants and its likely impact on the physical world. Why do 1 million people think it is necessary to keep a parallel virtual identity, spend dollars, acquire virtual properties, make virtual friends, have  virtual transactions etc. Is it all for “Fun”? or “Are cyber psychopaths on prowl”?.. must be material for several Ph. Ds…for those who are interested.

The developments in secondlife.com also raise several Cyber Law issues including whether the scope of cyber laws should be extended to cover the offences in second life.com kind of virtual worlds. By definition of course the copying of virtual assets causing wrongful harm to some body may be a crime both under Cyber Crime laws and copyright laws. But to what extent the law enforcement can monitor this game space is a matter of concern.

If we observe the reactions from US citizens on the Lori Drew case, many were not happy with the application of Cyber Crime laws to the Megan Meir suicide caused by malicious impersonation of Lori Drew though technically the Computer Misuse Act was eminently applicable in the case. If this becomes the accepted position of law, Cyber Laws will be increasingly kept out of applicability in the “Virtual Frauds”.

Cyber Law community should therefore consider ways and means of bringing the Cyber Criminals who operate in social networking sites, stealing identities and misusing them on the virtual and real space, under the justice system which provides appropriate punishments.

 Second life.com should  also consider developing its own Police Station, Judiciary, formation of its own Cyber Laws and have an enforcement mechanism. This group can interact with the real world Police whenever needed.

Comments are welcome at naavi@vsnl.com

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