23 August 2008

Italian drug dealers as early adapters of innovative communications technology

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It has been pointed out before [The EconomistSan Francisco Chronicle] that immigrant workers are often the most advanced users of communications technology.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica today provided an unusual example of this phenomenon: drug dealers (which in Italy tend to be of immigrant origin).

Here is my condensed translation:

Drugs now come via the internet – dealers use Skype to get in touch with customers
by Lorenza Pleuteri

They fear and know that their calls are being intercepted, so they change their habits and use the latest technologies. Cellphones are out, much better the internet to transmit voice and text and to speak without risk of being listened in on. Skype is the latest challenge for the police investigators who are after those who import and deal in illegal drugs.

The drug dealers have turned out to be quite clever. They order, confirm and approve deliveries and payments, with the certainty that the security protocol is impenetrable. Conversations between computers do not go through a central server, so even if the police where to get access to the conversation data, they would not be able to understand them.

The reason is that each conversation is encrypted to guarantee people’s privacy. So Skype has become a problem. But also video calls, emails and chat conversations. Even “push to talk”, which allows people to use their mobile phone as a two-way radio receiver, without distance limitations and outside of any network that can be intercepted.

It has therefore become increasingly difficult for the police to confiscate substantial quantities of drugs. Those that have happened are generally in rural areas, where 3G networks are not available.

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