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New Age Crime : Everyone Is 'in' the Net

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Movie-makers would have died of boredom in a crime-free world. The police force would have remained honest because there would have been no one to corrupt it. Ditto for the political leadership and the judiciary. Come to think of it the world of crime creates jobs.

If you are still on the same page, think of what would have become of The Phantom, Superman, Spiderman and Batman. Sherlock Holmes would have died of an overdose of opium. James Bond would not have had anything better to do than unzip voluptuous babes for the greater glory of England!

When the world was real, movie-makers were inspired to turn the most horrible incidents of crime into award winning films. When Martin Scorsese made "Goodfellas" his close friend Roger Ebert described it as "the best mob movie ever". However, pundits placed it a notch below "The Godfather" by Francis Ford Coppola. Even real godfathers must have seen the movie several times to learn from Marlon Brando how any don should conduct his professional and family life.

India's obsession with making crime-based movies surfaced fairly early. Corruption was a big ticket issue even in the middle 50s. "Hum Sub Chor Hain" (We are all thieves) starring Shammi Kapoor and Nalini Jaywant was made in 1956. The story by I S Johar was a spoof on the double standards of people who claim to be clean. "Hum Sub Chor Hain" was re-made in 1973 with Dara Singh and Sadhna Shivdasani. And in 1995 Kamal Sadhana re-shot the 1973 blockbuster made by his father Brij Sadhana again under the same name. Incidentally, 1956 was also the year when the song "is duniya mein sub chor chor, koi chhota chor koi bara chor" (This world is full of thieves, Big thieves and petty thieves, This world is full of thieves.) in 'Bhai Bhai" (Brother Brother) became an instant hit. Movies buffs seemed to agree that in this world everyone is a crook; some are small crooks and some are big crooks.

Shekhar Kapur turned the bloody exploits of Phoolan Devi into an award winning "Bandit Queen". The real-life lawbreaker later became a lawmaker. Yes, she was elected to the country's highest law-making body. She led a bloody life and met a bloody death at the hands of a vengeful survivor of her atrocities.

The advent of the ubiquitous World Wide Web (WWW) changed the rules of the game across the board. However, Tim Berners-Lee, founder of WWW, need not regret having created what some people uncharitably call the "masked demon". The virtual world is a spitting image of the real world. There are good guys and bad guys in both the worlds. The Net does not distinguish between or discriminate against a hero or a villain. Everyone is a hero or a villain here. Everyone is allowed his 15 minutes of fame in this world. Our very own Samir Bhatia had his 15 minutes of fame by creating Hotmail, at a time when email was still evolving as an online system of instant correspondence. He then sold it to Bill Gates and now leads a low profile life, enjoying the millions he made in the deal. Mark Zuckerberg, on of the creators of Facebook, is still hanging out. Of course the clever ones turn those 15 minutes into eternity.

Just about everything that happens in this world is happening in the virtual world. Of course, realtime crimes committed with the tools of the cyber world has given a new spin to the issue of crime-fighting.

In 1995 Irwin Winkler made a gripping cyber thriller called The Net. Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam and Dennis Miller played the lead roles. In the opening shot the US Undersecretary of Defense Michael Bergstrom commits suicide after discovering that he has tested positive for HIV. It later transpires that cyber terrorists had hacked his system and manipulated his medical records to make him believe he suffered from HIV. Angela Bennet (Sandra Bullock), a systems analyst, becomes the target of the cyber terrorists after she inadvertently gets hold of a disk used for hacking systems and changing the profile of the victims. Angela ends up carrying the identity of Ruth Marx, who has a criminal record. The rest of the story is about how she finally exposes the game and regains her identity.

However, the story which should get every crime fighter and movie-maker interested is the story of a Dotcom who measures 6'6" in his socks and weighs 130 kgs. Meet Kim Schmitz, born in Germany in 1974. It is said that some people are criminal by birth and some take to crime because of circumstances. The young Schmitz, perhaps, belonged to the first category.

In Germany he acquired the reputation of a teenage internet entrepreneur. He had his 15 minutes of fame. What followed there after is an unfolding saga of manipulating the web to garner ill-gotten wealth. He became notorious after he bypassed the security of NASA, the Pentagon and Citibank under the name of Kimble - based on the character of Dr Richard Kimble in the long running television programme The Fugitive. He then hacked corporate PBX systems in the US and claimed he would sell the access codes for "$200 a pop". He even bragged that "every PBX is an open door to me."

As a teenaged tycoon he was charged with insider trading and embezzlement. He received a two-year suspended sentence - because he was "under age" at the time the crimes were committed. The judge in the case said the court viewed his actions as "youthful foolishness."

Schmitz officially changed his name to Kim Dotcom. He moved to Hong Kong and then to New Zealand. He launched Megaupload and got into trouble over copyright issues with US authorities. He was charged with having caused the entertainment industry a loss of $500 million through pirated uploading of files through his site.