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Administration report on fighting Internet crime wins broad industry support
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new government report on combating crime on the Internet is winning broad industry support for concluding that no significant new laws are needed to attack cybercrime.
Attorney General Janet Reno released the inter-agency report Thursday at a Justice Department news conference, where she was flanked by Commerce Secretary William Daley and a senior attorney for America Online.
America Online has recently announced a merger with Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.com.
"We can and we should use existing laws to prosecute most unlawful conduct on the Internet," Reno said. "We must ensure that regulation of unlawful conduct on the Internet is treated in the same manner as off-line conduct."
The attorney general likened the current dilemma to a modern day "Wild West."
"Perhaps it's a little like the Wild West in the development of America [with some] who say, 'Let not government be involved.' But there was also the marshals and Wyatt Earp and others who brought some order to it."
Daley, who served on the working group appointed by President Clinton last summer to produce the report, emphasized the key conclusion.
"The issue before all of us was whether our existing laws were adequate to protect online activities. I think the report concludes that in most cases our laws do work".
"Frankly we hope this stops a lot of state lawmakers and several members of Congress with political agendas from pushing ahead with proposals which are often emotional spur-of-the-moment reactions to particular events," said a top Internet industry representative.
The executive, who asked not to be identified, was among several top industry officials who met with reporters after the news conference to applaud the report's conclusions.
The private sector officials said the report reflected dramatic improvement in the level of cooperation between the government and technology firms in the past two years in the increasingly coordinated effort to fight Internet crime.
The Internet Alliance, a leading consumer Internet industry association, issued a statement crediting the Clinton administration for "stepping back and giving us a report characterized by a calm, but clear-eyed assessment of the challenges facing us."
"The Internet Alliance particularly applauds the report's conclusion that industry should cooperate with and assist law enforcement agencies without becoming a co-regulator with government, or being forced to police the Internet," said Executive Director Jeff Richards.
Also backing the administration conclusions were John Ryan of America Online and Clint Smith of MCI WorldCom/UUNet, who co-chairs a council which brings together security chiefs of leading Internet Companies.
Ryan said he and his colleagues in the Information Technology Association of America are committed to working with the government "to balance the privacy interests" of users with the need to find "those who seek to abuse it."
The report recommends a few narrowly-tailored laws which have the blessing of Internet industry groups, but not of civil libertarians and privacy experts.
One proposal calls for allowing federal agents to track cyber criminals more quickly by getting a single court order to trace interstate communications. Under current law, agents must scramble to get court orders in each state where there is a link in the electronic chain between a victim and an offender.
The report also says regulation of online activity must be treated in a "technology neutral manner and in a manner that takes account of other important societal interests, such as privacy and protection of civil liberties".
The ACLU, however, is unsatisfied that the government's proposals protect privacy interests. The ACLU has sent Reno a letter to complain the new report "raises a number of civil liberties concerns." The letter opposed any expansion of law enforcement authority.
Teenager charged with computer hacking
U.S. Department of Justice
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