The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) officially announced its start of operations in the metaverse.
This new virtual space consists of a replica of its General Secretariat office, which is located in Lyon, France. The organization made the announcement in the context of the 90th session of the Interpol General Assembly, which took place in New Delhi from October 18 to 21.
How will the metaverse police operate?
By: Maria Cecilia Hernandez – Gabriel E. Levy B.
The news of Interpol’s metaverse, which took those attending the Assembly by surprise, was complemented by an immersive session in this new space-experience.
While Interpol announced that its metaverse is “fully operational”, for now, the interface allows people working in the organization, in any of its 195 partner countries, to interact there through their avatars, regardless of geographical borders or physical boundaries, and to take courses and training focused on improving police and forensic skills.
As explained by the entity in a statement, the Interpol metaverse can be accessed through the organization’s secure cloud (Interpol Secure Cloud), and the main objective of its presence in this interface is to combat cybercrime and potential crimes committed in the metaverse.
Since before the announcement, specialists in the field and web portals focused on technology issues have been asking whether the metaverse already has protocols, rules, laws or documents containing a list or description of typified crimes that can be committed or have already been committed in this interface, or whether, if an act that is considered a crime in the real world is committed virtually, the same legal framework of the physical context could be applied to virtual realities.
Could murdering an avatar be a crime?
As stated by Borja Adsuara, PhD in law and expert in digital strategy and public and regulatory affairs, quoted by the digital portal Xataka, the legal framework we currently have in the material world could be sufficient to regulate and judge civil and criminal offenses committed in the metaverse.
For Adsuara, although murdering or torturing an avatar is not the same as murdering or torturing a person and, therefore, the crime of the same name could not be applied, since there would be no physical harm, it is possible that this crime in the metaverse could be equated, in serious cases, with damage to moral integrity. In summary, our current legal framework could work in the virtual world, but with adjustments: reviewing which crimes already typified in the current jurisprudence fit, due to their impact and consequences, to the virtual environment.
“The first thing to clarify is that -obviously- raping or murdering an avatar is not the same as raping or murdering a physical person, so those articles of the Penal Code are not applicable. But does this mean that no crime can be committed in the metaverse? No. To begin with, the same cybercrimes that are committed on the Internet, in general, and on social networks, in particular, can be committed,” Adsuara explained .
A concrete example of this situation are the complaints that abound and persist, from the beginning of the entry into operation of virtual worlds until today, for sexual harassment or assault of women in such environments, among them, the Metaverse.
At the end of 2021, a woman reported that she was a victim of sexual harassment in Horizon Worlds, the virtual reality video game owned by Meta. Nina Jane Patel, the user and victim who made the crime public on her Medium blog, said that as soon as she logged on, a group of avatars with male appearance and voices approached her and groped her, with the approval of other avatars who were online, took pictures of her and insulted her.
A few months later, the report of a sexual abuse committed on the same platform by two users on the avatar of a 21-year-old user was made public. In this case, the woman took some pictures of the situation as evidence and with the aim of putting on the table the debate about the need to take urgent action on such situations.
The implemented measures are insufficient
Meta, the company that owns Horizon Worlds, has stated on multiple occasions that it has various functions to protect the safety of people in the virtual environment. For example, it has developed a “safe space” option, called Personal Boundary, which imposes a distance between avatars of 1.2 meters; if this distance is exceeded, the platform stops the movement of the avatars.
It is also possible to activate the recording of an event, which may persuade potential criminals, since they would know that their crimes would be recorded on video. However, although these tools have been developed and available almost since the beginning of the metaverse, crimes such as those mentioned above continue to occur.
It is clear that there is an urgent need to create laws that will help to take extreme measures to protect people in virtual worlds, especially if it is expected that by 2026 one in four people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse, whether working, studying, shopping or socializing, as stated by Interpol in its recent Assembly, citing the technology research company Gartner.
It is for this reason that the international police organization has consolidated an alliance with the World Economic Forum, Microsoft, Meta and other companies to carry out the initiative called Defining and Building the Metaverse, which seeks to establish the “rules of the game” of this virtual universe: laws, standards, protocols and ways to investigate, prosecute, judge and penalize criminal behavior that occurs in the context of the metaverse, among other actions.
“The World Economic Forum is bringing together leading voices in the private sector, civil society, academia and politics to define the parameters of an economically viable, interoperable, secure and inclusive metaverse, focusing on two main areas: governance and the creation of economic and social value.” “To many, the metaverse seems to herald an abstract future, but the issues it raises are ones that have always motivated Interpol: to support our member countries in fighting crime and to make the world – and the world – safer and more secure.
“To many, the metaverse seems to herald an abstract future, but the issues it raises are those that have always motivated Interpol: to support our member countries in the fight against crime and to make the world, virtual or otherwise, safer for those who inhabit it,” said Jürgen Stock, Interpol’s Secretary General.
As detailed in a press release from this international organization, some of these crimes are likely to present major problems for law enforcement agencies, since not all crimes that are typified as such in the physical world are considered punishable in the virtual world.
In this regard, Madan Oberoi, Interpol’s Executive Director of Technology and Innovation, stated that
“If we identify these risks early on, we can work with stakeholders to define the necessary governance frameworks and stop future criminal markets before they are fully formed. We will only be able to design an effective response if we have these conversations now”.
In conclusion, it is expected that the growing number of active users in virtual environments such as the metaverse will increase the number and type of crimes in these platforms. By 2026, it is expected that 25% of the population will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse, making it increasingly urgent to design a regulatory framework to ensure the safety and integrity of people in these spaces. With this goal in mind, it is hoped that the Interpol metaverse will chart some possible paths and contribute to cyberjustice and governance.
 Interpol. (October 20, 2022). Interpol lanza el primer metaverso policial mundial. Available at https://www.interpol.int/es/Noticias-y-acontecimientos/Noticias/2022/INTERPOL-lanza-el-primer-metaverso-policial-mundial
 Pérez, E. (February 7, 2022). Qué pasa si asesino a alguien en el metaverso: cómo aplican del mundo real sobre el virtual. En Xataka.com. Available at https://www.xataka.com/legislacion-y-derechos/que-pasa-asesino-a-alguien-metaverso-como-aplican-leyes-mundo-real-virtual
 Adsuara, B. (February 11, 2022). El reverso perverso del metaverso: ciberdelitos e identificabilidad. En La Información. Available at https://www.lainformacion.com/opinion/borja-adsuara/reverso-perverso-metaverso-ciberdelitos-identificabilidad/2859627/
 Patel, N. (December 21, 2021). Reality or Fiction? Available at https://medium.com/kabuni/fiction-vs-non-fiction-98aa0098f3b0
 Farrés. H. (December 18, 2021). Denuncian el primer caso de acoso sexual en el metaverso de Mark Zuckerberg. En La Vanguardia. Available at https://www.lavanguardia.com/tecnologia/20211218/7938626/denuncian-acoso-sexual-metaverso-horizon-worlds-meta-pmv.html
 Op. Cit. Available at https://initiatives.weforum.org/defining-and-building-the-metaverse/home