The International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, is looking at ways to police crime in the metaverse, according to secretary general Jurgen Stock. However, the agency may find that to be hard in the absence of a universally agreed definition of the “metaverse,” let alone of metaverse crime.

Stock said, “criminals are sophisticated and professional in very quickly adapting to any new technological tool that is available to commit crime. We need to sufficiently respond to that. Sometimes lawmakers, police, and our societies are running a little bit behind.”

“We have seen if we are doing it too late, it already impacts trust in the tools we are using, and therefore the metaverse. In similar platforms that already exist, criminals are using it,” he added, according to the BBC.

Defining the metaverse

The metaverse may be thought of as the idea of a post-physical world in which life is lived virtually on the Internet: “a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual space” where humans experience life in ways they could not in the real world.

American author Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term “metaverse” in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. He referred to the metaverse as an all-encompassing digital world that exists parallel to the real world.

However, the word gained significance when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of the social media company to “Meta” in 2021, a rebrand that focused on building the metaverse.

While at this point users are already utilizing a range of hardware such as headsets to gain access to the immersive experiences of the metaverse, there’s still no universally agreed definition of the metaverse. Much less of metaverse crime.

What does metaverse crime look like for Interpol?

The building blocks of the new form of communication are still being laid down. Anyone can build their own metaverse and define how that specific digital world works. Interpol has now built its own virtual reality (VR) space in order to catch up with criminals operating in the metaverse.

The VR unit is aimed at helping its officers with training for virtual interactions. Announcing the launch of the virtual reality metaverse last October, Interpol said:

“As the number of metaverse users grows and the technology further develops, the list of possible crimes will only expand to potentially include crimes against children, data theft, money laundering, financial fraud, counterfeiting, ransomware, phishing, and sexual assault and harassment.”

Interpol is still having a hard time defining metaverse crime. Madan Oberoi, the executive director of technology and innovation at Interpol, admitted to the BBC that “there are crimes where I don’t know whether it can still be called a crime or not.”

“For example, there have been reported cases of sexual harassment,” he said. “If you look at the definitions of these crimes in physical space, and you try to apply it in the metaverse, there is a difficulty.”

“We don’t know whether we can call them a crime or not, but those threats are definitely there, so those issues are yet to be resolved,” he added.

Oberoi said law enforcement needed to “know about the metaverse” in order to “help people who have been hurt in the metaverse.” It is one of Interpol’s objectives, he explained, “to make sure law enforcement personnel start using the metaverse and they become aware.”

Uphill task

Alex Kim, chief monetization officer at XR platform Sensorium Galaxy, said while discussions around metaverse regulation may help create “safe digital environments” for users, there is still need to strike a balance in implementation.

“The metaverse is being envisioned as a decentralized platform over which no central authority has control over,” Kim told MetaNews.

“This begs the question of who exactly should be tasked with monitoring the metaverse and what powers can this entity potentially have, and over what and whom.” Continuing, Kim added:

“It’s clear that policing the metaverse won’t be as straightforward as some might be hoping, but it’s very positive that the conversation surrounding the topic is moving forward, especially given the rapid pace of current technological developments.”

Software engineer Brandon Church laughed at the idea that the global police agency wanted to play guard to the metaverse.

“[The metaverse] is just an idea at the moment. The problem with ideas is that sometimes they never see the light of day. So these guys [Interpol] are working on policing an idea? I’m seriously wondering [where they are going with this],” Church told MetaNews.

Arseny Myakotnikov, cofounder and CMO of drive-to-earn Metadrive, believes the Interpol initiative goes against the ethos of decentralization, a key foundational principle of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, and Web3.

“Each metaverse must exist as a separate digital universe, where investors would be able to set their own rules and regulations based on the weight of their votes through decentralized voting within the project’s DAO,” he says

“It’s important to stress that most of the violations mentioned by the Interpol cannot be committed at the current stage of metaverse technology development.”

Interpol is an international organization that facilitates worldwide police cooperation and crime control. It was created 100 years ago and is made of 195 member countries.

This article is originally from MetaNews.

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