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Cybercrime treaty ready for signatures


By Rick Perera

(IDG) -- A controversial international treaty to combat online crime is ready for adoption by participating countries after ministers of the Council of Europe approved the final draft Thursday.

The cybercrime treaty will be opened for countries to sign at an international conference on cybercrime in Budapest on November 23, the council said in a statement.

Privacy and human rights groups have been harshly critical of the accord, saying it gives police overly broad powers and has been drafted in a process that has excluded democratic controls.

"Now it will be signed by most countries and will even be signed with a greater sense of urgency since September 11," when terrorist attacks struck the United States, said Maurice Wessling, director of the Amsterdam-based privacy group Bits of Freedom.

Simon Davies, director of the London group Privacy International, said that since September 11 there's been a worldwide push for conventions on subjects such as international financial transactions -- with the U.S., which formerly shied away from such treaties, taking the lead. As these treaties converge, he said, there's an added threat to personal privacy. INFOCENTER
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"The question of lack of accountability, lack of transparency, lack of due process, lack of democratic oversight -- these are problems that will be exacerbated in coming months as more of these conventions are developed," he said. "Cybercrime was originally seen as a one-off; now we see it as part of a larger tapestry of global conventions."

Some Internet service providers (ISPs) are also unhappy with the measures, which they say include vague definitions and could impose heavy burdens on providers that may not be reimbursed for their expenses when meeting law enforcement demands.

"The key issue is what data ISPs will be forced to either retain or preserve, and cost of recovery for that," said Joe McNamee, regulatory affairs manager at EuroISPA, an industry group representing European Internet service providers. "Without an adequate cost recovery for both retention and retrieval of the information, ISPs will be open to open-ended requirements."

Along with the 43 member-states of the Council of Europe, which isn't affiliated with the European Union, other countries, including the U.S., Canada, Japan and South Africa, have been involved in drafting the treaty. The pact will go into effect when five states, including at least three Council of Europe member states, ratify it.

Privacy activists are hopeful that the debate will now reach the national level, as signatory states move to enact the treaty provisions in their own law.

"The good thing is that the way the cybercrime treaty is formulated leaves room for interpretation, and that is partly because a lot of the articles are compromises between different countries," said Wessling. "So there is a lot of room for privacy groups, for civil liberties groups to pressure, to ask for a way of interpreting the treaty that doesn't damage privacy and civil liberties too much."


• The Council of Europe

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