Public confidence in electronic channels of communication, such as the internet, mobile and wireless communications is at its lowest point for a decade, claim information and communication technology (ICT) experts at two leading British universities.
Researchers from Cranfield University, Oxfordshire and the London School of Economics recently collaborated in an Office of Science and Technology-funded study that examined the evolution of the internet, interactivity and its impact on levels of trust and confidence amongst users.
Professor Brian Collins, Head of the Information Systems Department at Cranfield University, said: "A key issue for the lack of trust is the insecure nature of these technologies used today. These technologies form a complex web of interactions and interdependencies which haven't been well mapped and aren't well understood."
Professor Robin Mansell of the Media and Communications Department, LSE, who examined the social and economic impact of these technologies said: "What's clear is that as these technologies evolve, so do the vulnerabilities and risks faced by web users. Our growing social dependence on cyber trust systems isn't balanced by the resilience or ability for graceful degradation of these systems – resulting in very uneven levels of trust amongst users."
Figures published in March 2005 by the Consumers' Association supports this view.
Around 20m adults in the UK have had their identity stolen or know someone who has been a victim of cyber crime.
According to Which? fraud is now the UK's fastest growing crime and represents a loss to the economy of around £1.3bn a year. Criminals in the UK regularly obtain documents such as birth and death certificates, bank account details, medical data and even users' shopping habits – often over the Internet.
According to Professor Collins there needs to be a public debate on the issue of governing cyberspace developments so as to enhance trust, limit the potential for destructive attack, strengthen collective security and limit privacy invasions.
He continued: "Scientific evidence can't be applied to resolve all these controversies. It can, however, help to clarify how the human and technical components of cyber space relate to each other."
Professor Mansell added: "There is a huge need for research to underpin policy interventions in this area because of uncertainty about how whether such interventions will work as predicted or create new problems for businesses, governments and citizens."
At a Government level, the DTI's Cyber Trust and Crime Prevention project, part of UK Foresight, has investigated the applications and implications of the next generation of ICTs across a wide variety of areas and the possibilities and challenges they bring for crime prevention in the future.
The results of this investigation are contained in a new book, edited by Professor Mansell and Professor Collins: Trust and Crime in Information Societies, January 2005, published by Edward Elgar.
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