Digital crime is defined as any illegal activity that involves information technology infrastructure. It consists of unlawful interception of computer data from, to or inside a computer system. Rational Choice Theory is among the theories that illustrate the cause of crime. They theory argues that individuals commit criminal acts if they think that it will be beneficial to them. It emphasizes on the role of progressive self-interest in individual decision making.
This paper seeks to discuss the relationship between rational choice theory and digital crime.
Rational Choice Theory and General Crime
Crime generally occurs when there is a convergence of the motivation of the offender, a suitable target and the lack of a protector. Rational Choice Theory asserts that offenders make a rational choice of committing an offence having considered the benefits against the cost of being caught and punished. The theory requires crime-specific focus to capture the idiosyncrasy of diverse needs linked to the crime because it makes it easy. The focus further highlights attention to the condition or context of the criminal act instead of the individual. Decision-making exists in a weak form since criminals do not collect all the information required before taking part in a criminal activity. Risks and payoffs determine the need for committing a crime (Vito & Maahs, 2012, p. 63).
Rational Choice Theory and Digital Crime
Digital piracy is form of digital crime whereby individuals use digital equipment for non-backup uses without obtaining permission of the copyright holders. Digital products are on high demand, especially by the younger generation. Digital criminals take advantage of the fact that the users usually emphasize on the convenience of the products instead of quality. Computing power and internet aids the transmission and gathering of digital content since it enhances the interactions between suppliers and customers. The global nature of the internet means that online market has a great potential that only needs to be tapped (Wada, Longe & Danquah, 2012, p. 5).
The digital revolution has dissolved physical boundaries of countries in all corners of the world. This has made nations with insufficient interrelated laws, susceptible to digital crimes. The theory argues that background factors do not play a role in the rational choices that are made by offenders; instead, an offender values the target for what he or she will gain. If the target is an easy one, the suitability of the crime is enhanced. The choice of committing a crime is influenced by perceived costs and benefits of the activity. Offenders also look into the possibility of formal legal action. If they consider the risk of formalized legal action as high, they will avoid engaging in the crime. However, if the risks are low, the offenders will go ahead and commit the act. Besides, offenders of digital crime consider the perceived benefits of noncompliance and a sense of fairness. They argue that none is hurt in digital crime and their actions are right. A favorable environment with weak protection measures like passwords offers the offenders the appropriate opportunity for committing criminal acts. Most digital criminals are people who are seeking status. The act of owning digital products overrides the notion of being convicted (Wada, Longe & Danquah, 2012, p. 5).
Rational Choice Theory in Non-Digital Crimes
Rational Choice theory is used in non-digitalized crimes, like burglary and shoplifting. Offenders get the opportunity to commit crimes but whenever they come across a high possibility of being captured, they refrain from going ahead with the act. When a burglar is planning to break into a home, he or she will access the expected benefits of the crime by weighing the odds of being arrested, detection and cruelty of the punishment on the event of a conviction. The offender will also look into the opportunity cost, various avenues of making money, the material cost of committing the crime and social consequences of conviction. Besides, he or she will also consider the benefits of the criminal activity against the potential risks. The benefits that he or she stands to acquire extend beyond finances and they comprise of revenge, excitement, psychological pleasure and reputation (Samaha, 2006, p. 73).
Like any other criminal activity, shoplifting occurs when the interaction between the offender and the environment allows for the act. The shoplifter may be in need of some money for buying basic commodities that he or she cannot do without. Such criminals consider the inhibiting processes and if they find it unnecessary to hold back; they will consider the possibility of getting caught. They will consider these and weigh them against the benefits of success and being able to satisfy the basic needs.
Digital products have become popular because of the penetration of the internet. The main challenge that they are faced with is digital crime. Rational Choice theory asserts that individuals choose to take part in crime after considering the risks and the benefits. Individuals can foretell the results and select options that are likely to give them the greatest satisfaction. Essentially, the rational choice theory operates on the assumption that crime is a personal preference. Individuals are accountable for their choices, and therefore, are to blame for their criminal acts. This applies to both digital and non-digital crimes.
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Samaha, J. (2006). Criminal justice. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.
Vito, G. F., & Maahs, J. R. (2012). Criminology: Theory, research, and policy. Sudbury, Mass: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Wada, F., Longe, O., & Danquah, P. (2012). Action Speaks Louder than Words – Understanding Cyber Criminal Behavior using Criminological Theories. Journal of Internet Banking & Commerce, 17(1), 1-12.