Law enforcement agencies overseas are already looking for ways to train officers on how to police the evolving metaverse, with Interpol recently unveiling their initial training software at their 90th General Assembly.
The lines between reality and science fiction continue to blur as law enforcement officers are now using virtual reality technologies to perform their jobs better. The metaverse may not be an actual physical location, but intelligence agencies, Interpol and Europol, are already zeroing in on how to use it to fight real crimes occurring online such as child exploitation and terrorism.
Interpol’s global police officers unveiled the first metaverse designed for law enforcement at the 90th Interpol General Assembly in New Delhi earlier this month. The surprise unveiling marks the early stages of law enforcement agencies learning how to police the evolving virtual reality metaverse. Participants will access the new crime-fighting metaverse with VR headsets and hand controls.
Interpol officers create virtual avatars that interact with each other in a realistic replication of the organization’s headquarters in Lyon, France. Law enforcement officers take training courses on a variety of relevant policing tasks, including border control and forensic investigation. Interpol created a video to highlight segments of their new metaverse experience and show what the training process looks like.
The global police force has also created what it calls an Expert Group on the metaverse. This leadership group will allow concerned members of law enforcement to communicate with the public about evolving technology concerns. Scammers, terrorists, and other internet criminals are certain to target virtual reality worlds and Interpol sees their metaverse as a way of staying one step ahead.
Real crime risks in VR are the same as those already happening online today, including phishing, identity theft, financial fraud, sexual harassment, and the targeting of minors. But the metaverse must be experienced to fully understand it, says Madan Oberoi, Interpol’s executive director of technology and innovation. “By identifying these risks from the outset, we can work with stakeholders to shape the necessary governance frameworks and cut off future criminal markets before they are fully formed,” he said.
Europol, the intelligence agency that focuses on cross-border operations in the European Union member countries, also released a report called Policing in the Metaverse: What Law Enforcement Needs to Know. The 29-page document details the type of criminal activities that could soon plague the metaverse. It also provides advice on building a police presence online.
One area of focus is the potential for criminals to hijack or reproduce another person’s 3D avatar to use it for nefarious purposes. This could be a huge problem in the not-too-distant future as these avatars become more photorealistic. Cybercriminals posing as others in such a realistic manner can dangerously manipulate users, including vulnerable minors.
Child exploitation and sexual abuse are major metaverse concerns for law enforcement officials around the globe. “In the metaverse, offenders may be able to carry out the entire grooming process…” Europol said in the document. “It will be very difficult for children to distinguish adults from other children since it would be difficult to know, especially for children, who they are talking with.”
Contrary to popular belief, the metaverse is no longer simply a gadget for gamers. Instead, it’s considered the next stage in the internet’s development and its use will become common sooner than many think. Technology research firm Gartner predicts that by 2026, one in every four people will work, study, socialize or shop in the metaverse for an hour each day.
As the number of people in the metaverse increases, the level of internet crime will rise as well. Law enforcement agencies must monitor new technology and gain experience in effectively policing online. Interpol and Europol are hopeful their new education programs will help agencies maintain the rule of law and protect communities from new levels of cybercrime.