By Lieutenant Shawn Ray
The 2018 science fiction movie “Ready Player One” depicts a future society that places little value on people’s real lives and where people instead invest everything in their status in an immersive virtual reality world called “the OASIS.” People spend most of their money improving their statuses and virtual physical abilities in the OASIS, in lieu of achievements in the physical world. The virtual world of the OASIS is made possible by immersive goggles, haptic suits and gloves. Not only does it lack any type of laws or police, but killing other players increases the player’s virtual currency.
The OASIS was a fictional place in a movie, but could the metaverse soon mimic it?
Building the metaverse
The thought of dawning an immersive suit, gloves and goggles and logging into the metaverse sounds like science fiction, but the reality is not far off. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta (formerly Facebook), envisions the metaverse as the internet of the future, drawing billions of people to the developing platform. 
Zuckerberg’s belief in the future of the metaverse can be seen in the changing of his social media platform’s name as well as the significant investment of money and personnel to make this a reality. Meta is positioning itself to be the center of the virtual world, allotting 10,000 employees, about 20% of its global workforce, to work on developing augmented and virtual reality devices. 
Meta is not alone; Google, Microsoft and Epic Games are also investing billions in the prospects of the metaverse.  Big tech companies foresee a future internet experience that mimics the real world, including virtual reality workplace environments and shopping malls that allow patrons to see, smell and touch products like they were in a real mall. According to HelloSafe, the metaverse global market value will hit nearly $650 billion this year. 
With massive capital and intellectual investments by tech companies, combined with potential profits, the metaverse has the potential to change the way we live, shop, work and socialize.
Immersive technologies are already here
The key to drawing people to the metaverse lies in making the new internet an immersive, three-dimensional experience. This will be accomplished through use of wearables such as the following devices, all of which are currently available:
- Haptic suit: At the heart of immersive technology are wearable suits such as the TESLASUIT, which can allow the user to experience real-world sensations of touch, from the feeling of raindrops to the impact of blunt force.  Currently the TESLASUIT sells for $12,999. 
- Haptic gloves: Through the use of an exoskeleton, TESLASUIT XR gloves create resistance, providing the perception of the shape, size and density of virtual objects. Its current cost is $14,999. 
- Eyewear/goggles: Immersive goggles provide a 360-degree immersive view in the virtual world. Through technological advancements, goggles such as the Meta Quest Pro are lightweight and display the wearer’s facial expressions on their avatar. The Meta Quest Pro is available for $1,499. 
- Miscellaneous haptic devices:The KAT Walk C 2 Personal VR Treadmill provides 360 degrees of natural movement. It costs $1,099. 
- Olfactometer devices: These can emit various scents to the user, which will be utilized in future haptic devices to create taste in the virtual world. Several companies have working prototypes.
The current high costs of immersive technology hinder development, but costs will likely decrease over time. Widespread use of the metaverse hinges on the development of inexpensive immersive technologies that are easy to use – these will allow small businesses, developing countries and all economic classes to take part in the metaverse.
How will police respond to crimes in the metaverse?
Since the future seems to be now, crimes and other offenses against one another in the metaverse are almost inevitable. When adverse incidents occur, how will police respond?
Immersive wearables will give people the ability to physically interact with others from all over the world. This technology will expose users to both wanted and unwanted physical contact with other people. Beyond the initial electrical stimuli that simulate touching or blunt force, a victim may desire a criminal justice response for what they perceive to be crimes in the metaverse. This certainly applies to unwanted touching for sexual gratification. But how are officers to respond to a report of unwanted touching in the metaverse?
Sadly, an incident of sexual groping in the metaverse was reported within weeks of the metaverse going live. The incident drew heavy criticism, with users questioning safety in the virtual world.  According to the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), the police must create a partnership with central federal agencies to establish legislation to curb future crimes committed in the metaverse.  Before laws are passed, though, there are basic terms and issues that must be resolved.
Defining physical contact in the virtual world will force law enforcement and legislatures to question the current parameters of what is considered a physical or sexual assault. As hyper-realistic technologies such as virtual reality headsets and haptic suits become mainstream, people will interpret physical attacks within the metaverse as actual attacks in the real world and therefore expect a law enforcement response.  How will officers respond to physical attacks that occurred virtually? Where can these attacks be said to occur? What jurisdiction will respond? Law enforcement agencies have become proficient in solving internet crimes such as fraud, criminal harassment, human trafficking and identity theft; however, this will become much more difficult as the internet evolves into the metaverse.
The next generation of the internet is Web3.  Web3 is based on decentralization, privacy and anonymity, with users and creators in charge of the internet and their data. Currently, the internet is generally controlled by a small number of central companies and banks that regulate it through products and services provided to the user. The current system is helpful to identify evidence of crimes such as banking transaction records, records of transactions from businesses and communication records. Web3 removes those traditional banking transactions for Blockchain (cryptocurrency) and peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions.  This process removes all oversight and readily available records. Web3 is permissionless; therefore, everyone has access. Web3’s development is primarily being driven by the creators/investors of cryptocurrency, who see an opportunity in developing new decentralized and anonymous economies within the metaverse. This opportunity is also driven by the consumer’s desire to conduct commerce without the requirement to provide their personal information to businesses, banks, government bodies, etc. 
The evolution toward Web3 creates an environment that may have severe implications for crimes in the metaverse as well as severely diminishing law enforcement’s ability to apprehend suspects who commit them.
Sex in the metaverse
Despite what we have seen on TV and in movies, technology has yet to develop an immersive suit with haptic sensors for sexual gratification. However, the sex industry is investing millions into the development of functioning and affordable immersive sexual gratification bodysuits. RD Land, a game developer, is working on a prototype AI program that utilizes “a combination of audio, visual, tactile (haptic) and even olfactory stimulus that lends to a more robust sense of immersion,” which could be intertwined with the rhythm of your favorite music to heighten the sense of pleasure in the brain. 
The replacement of human interaction and intimacy for sexual gratification with potential “virtual sex acts on steroids” could have social consequences for our communities. Some societal changes from the sex industry will become law enforcement issues to the police.
Virtual reality social or sexual contact is seemingly harmless for two consenting adults, but what if this technology is utilized for human trafficking or sexual acts with minors? Sarah Gardner, vice president of external affairs at Thorn, a tech nonprofit that focuses on protecting children from online sexual abuse, sees the appeal of virtual gaming in the metaverse as a magnet for children as well as predators. When new online forums arise that attract kids, sexual predators are often among the first to arrive. Gardner says, “They see an environment that is not well protected and does not have clear systems of reporting. They’ll go there to take advantage of the fact that it is a safe ground for them to abuse or groom kids.” 
Up to 100,000 minors are trafficked for sex in the United States every year. In 2019, almost 40% of those minors were groomed on the internet.  There is clearly a market for sex for hire, and that demand can be more easily served through the metaverse, especially as immersive technology equals or even exceeds the real-world experience. Due to the nonexistent jurisdictional lines in the virtual world, it will be crucial for law enforcement to collaborate with legislators, game developers and other stakeholders to protect people from human trafficking, unwanted sex and violent crime in the metaverse.
Law enforcement must act
As immersive wearables become affordable and more people turn to virtual reality for work, shopping and leisure, law enforcement will need to take steps to safeguard its communities (virtual and physical):
- A central point of authority, direction and education for law enforcement in the metaverse is necessary. Interpol, the international police force, has already established a metaverse division. Its purposes include offering immersive training courses to law enforcement across the globe.  Resources such as the Interpol metaverse division and similar efforts elsewhere will be invaluable training for our officers, investigators and IT specialists to investigate crimes in the metaverse. Countries throughout the world are now turning to the Interpol metaverse division for guidance, training and collaboration.
- Department leadership should be discussing and planning for a world that exists in the metaverse. Just talking about what is already here and what is being developed will aid in the creation of a service-based response for our residents when a metaverse crime is committed.
- Law enforcement should establish and sustain relationships with experts in the fields of Web3, Blockchain and the metaverse. These fields are rapidly evolving and will need a higher level of understanding to investigate criminal activity.
- Finally, law enforcement should partner with companies that create content in the metaverse. Companies generally want to partner with law enforcement to ensure the safety of their clients, and law enforcement gains industry knowledge from this partnership. Expanding these partnerships to include recommendations on policing the metaverse and dealing with bad actors is an increasing need.
The complexity of the metaverse and its ability to gather people from all over the world on one virtual platform prompts the need for an international financial oversight entity, as well as experts in the investigation of human trafficking and crimes against persons to oversee the large volumes of people and money entering and exiting the metaverse.  Through partnerships with the tech industry and collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement entities, a strategic response to policing the metaverse will provide a safe virtual world for everyone.
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About the author
Shawn Ray is a 21-year veteran with the San Pablo Police Department in California and currently holds the rank of lieutenant in command of the Priority Oriented Policing (POP) division. Shawn holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University at Hayward and most recently completed the POST Command College program at San Diego State University.