Dissertation Author: Meghan B. Peterson
Abstract: In this dissertation, I explore the role of law in policing operations targeting cyber sex offenders in the United States. Specifically, I examine enforcement in this crime arena as part of an ongoing expansion within the carceral, surveillance, risk-based state. I argue that imprecision and lack of clarity within American law – particularly in the evolving world of online interactions – generate hazy, arbitrary applications in law enforcement. On this point, I submit that absence of legal clarity undermines law enforcement efforts to address crimes – both within and beyond the cyber world. Distinctive spaces of online and tech-based socialization, paired with the rapid evolution of technology, produce complex conditions for law enforcement. These components are further nourished – indeed, created – by a pervasive lack of clarity within the law. In short, law is unable to keep pace with the evolving nature of crime, the technologies of crime, and finally, the technologies of crime response, deterrence, and prevention. In chronicling the history of American sex crimes law enforcement broadly and cyber sex crimes specifically, I trace the role of unclear law in the ongoing project of carceral state development. Through my work on a State-mandated taskforce reviewing the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry, I also document impetuses of carceral state construction in the criminal justice apparatus for cataloging, monitoring, tracking, and surveilling of offenders. Moreover, I detect within the shift toward risk-assessment criminal justice sanctions the move to predict and identify not-yet-offenders among the civilian population – a premise of the carceral state drive to subsume the legal into those rendered illegal; the nonpunitive into the punitive; the civil into the penal.