The COVID-19 pandemic, which swept across the world in 2020, interrupted frequent international economic, trade exchanges and personnel mobility, and completely changed people's daily work and lifestyle. Ever since, countries have been made to deal with the major changes in social life and work processes brought about by the pandemic. During the period of city closure or semi-closure caused by the pandemic, the number and proportion of three kinds of criminal cases, including cyber crime, domestic violence and anti-social behavior, increased significantly. At the same time, the new risks and challenges related to the pandemic, especially the explosive growth of criminal cases involving the pandemic, urgently need more active and in-depth international security and law enforcement cooperation in order to achieve the economic and social recovery of various countries after the pandemic. In April 2020, the FBI detected that the number of cybercrime increased by about 400%. From January to April, 2020, cyber attacks against "cloud services" increased by 6.3 times. Attacks by Ransomware have increased dramatically by 8 times, leading Interpol to issue early warning to front-line medical institutions to prevent cyber attacks.
As the main institution to maintain social order, carry out pandemic prevention tasks and crack down on various criminal acts during the pandemic period, the police systems and personnel in various countries bear greater work pressure and public expectation than before the outbreak. In the post-pandemic era, how to deal with new challenges and risks should be the priority for countries to fight crime and transnational police cooperation.
Five major challenges in the illegal and criminal activities related to pandemic diseases
Firstly, Information security involving individuals, enterprises and public institutions has been challenged as never before. Due to the need of pandemic prevention and control, the administrative agencies of various countries need to collect and master the personal information of their own people, including information records with privacy. At present, the storage of personal information and data is integrated with network technology, which provides an "opportunity" for criminals to obtain and sell the above information and data by means of network, thus carrying out transnational cyber crimes such as illegally obtaining and selling personal information, which brings difficulties to the detection of cases. Compared with people before the pandemic, they are more vigilant against cyber attacks and frauds. Combating traditional cybercrime and pandemic-related cybercrime should be the focus of police work in various countries.
Secondly, False information dissemination based on network technology is widespread. Due to the local blockade caused by the pandemic, people's daily life has been completely changed. The closure of schools means that students can only attend online classes at home, and the closure of office places means that adults can only work online through the network. The heavy dependence on the Internet and social platforms makes criminal gangs shift their illegal activities from real scenes to virtual scenes, ranging from walking false information to people's cognitive confusion, to pretending to be an authority to cheat, endangering the credibility of government agencies and inducing social instability.
Thirdly, the potential crime risks involved in vaccine production, transportation and distribution are rising. In view of the scarcity of vaccines, the actual and potential risks of criminal acts such as hoarding, robbing, destroying and forging vaccine resources and cyber attacks against vaccine manufacturers and research and development institutions are constantly rising. At present, the global vaccine supply is unbalanced, and the transportation and distribution of vaccines are relatively complicated, which makes vaccines become scarce resources. Criminals or groups are taking vaccines as targets for theft, looting and forgery.
Fourthly, in terms of preventing and combating the criminal acts of manufacturing and selling fake nucleic acid negative certificates, according to the report and early warning of Europol in February 2021, several fake cases related to selling COVID-19 virus negative certificates to multinational travelers have been confirmed by EU member States. The most recent case occurred in Britain, where a person who sold the test-negative certificate spuriously issued by a formal laboratory agency to passengers for 100 pounds was arrested by the police. At Charles de Gaulle Airport, France, suspects also sold fake nucleic acid test negative certificates to passengers traveling internationally at a unit price of 150 to 300 euros. Falsification seriously harms the international pandemic prevention and control mechanism, which makes countries have to provide more resources to strengthen border check and health measures.
Improve the psychological counseling and care for police officers. After the outbreak of the pandemic, police officers face the reality of shortage of manpower, shortage of resources, virus susceptibility and sharp increase in workload, and bear more than daily psychological pressure. Paying attention to the mental health of police officers is a new issue that all countries must face.
The ways for police agencies in various countries to embracing challenges
Firstly, police departments of various countries should strengthen cooperation in the field of Internet and data transmission to combat criminal acts against personal information. For criminal cases involving vaccine research, development, production, transportation and distribution (especially cybercrime cases), law enforcement departments of various countries should strengthen transnational cooperation, realize information sharing of intelligence and evidence search, and take joint actions when necessary to crack down on related criminal individuals and groups.
Secondly, the police departments among various countries, together with border inspection and pandemic prevention agencies, should crack down on the forgery of pandemic-related documents. It is urgent for the international community to make use of the existing police assistance and information exchange mechanism, grasp the entry personnel who may use forged test certificates, and assist the other country in tracing the clues of criminal individuals or groups, so as to ensure that there is no significant harm to the pandemic prevention and control system between countries. The gradual alleviation of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the strict prevention and control mechanisms of various countries. For criminals and behaviors that violate the requirements of pandemic prevention and control and deliberately cause virus transmission, countries should form a linkage mechanism to jointly crack down on the above-mentioned criminal individuals and groups.
Thirdly, relieve the psychological pressure of police officers who are/were in the front line during the pandemic. Because of all kinds of unexpected events handled during the pandemic, police officers are under greater physical and psychological pressure than in the past. Meanwhile, they should give more care and help in mental health and stress relief. In this field, there is potential and space for cooperation among police departments of various countries. Establishing a bilateral or multilateral online police communication platform and regularizing its activities will help peers to relieve psychological pressure and tension, and jointly improve and improve their ability to cope with crises.
With the acceleration and distribution of vaccine production, the pandemic situation in various countries is slowing down. However, the spread of variant viruses makes the pandemic prevention work in all countries worldwide never be taken lightly. Developing countries are facing a new round of pressure when dealing with the spread, diffusion and prevention and control of virus variants. South Asian countries have encountered serious difficulties in the new round of transmission of variant viruses, and their medical systems have been under tremendous pressure, and their social order has been seriously damaged. Illegal and criminal cases involving the treatment of patients and the allocation of medical resources broke out in a spurt. The implementation of a series of pandemic prevention measures and the heavy responsibility of cracking down on pandemic-related crimes relied on the police systems and personnel of various countries. It is urgent to strengthen international police cooperation. Experts, scholars and media in many countries have reflected on the gains and losses of anti-pandemic in the past year and called for summing up experiences and lessons from them and strengthening global cooperation to finally overcome the pandemic. From sudden "encounter" to "protracted war" against pandemic, only by adhering to the concept of community of human destiny, uniting and cooperating with all countries and controlling the pandemic situation can we win the final victory against pandemic.
(Zhang Hao is a scholar at Jincheng College, Sichuan University, P. R. China and Zong Wei is a Ph.D candidate at School of Ethnology and Sociology, Minzu University of China, P. R. China )