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U.S. embraces European cybercrime proposal

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Worldwide groups


WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States has endorsed the gist of a controversial European drive to tighten cybercrime laws over the protests of privacy, civil liberties and human rights advocates.

The central provisions of the 41-nation Council of Europe's latest draft convention "are consistent with the existing framework of U.S. law and procedure," the Justice Department said in a Friday posting on its cybercrime Web site.

At issue is the first multilateral pact drafted specifically to deal with the cross-border nature of much computer-related crime.

When ready, it would be opened for signature worldwide in an effort to slash the procedural and jurisdictional obstacles that law enforcers say play into the hands of criminals operating through the Internet.


Targeted are such things as malicious code to disable Web sites as well as computer use for such garden-variety crimes like fraud, copyright infringement and distribution of child pornography.

The United States will decide whether to join only after the drafting is wrapped up, probably later this month, and the treaty is opened for signature, perhaps by the end of next year, the Justice Department said.

But in a "Frequently Asked Questions" text, it played down charges that the pact would stretch the long arm of the police improperly in cyberspace, trample on individual privacy and erode government accountability.

One key issue had to do with data-retention requirements for Internet Service Providers, companies that serve as electronic gateways to the Web.

Worldwide groups

In an October 18 statement signed by groups around the world, critics said logs based on such archived data had been used to track dissidents and persecute minorities.

"We urge you not to establish this requirement in a modern communications network," said a 27-group coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union, Privacy International and the Internet Society.

"Police agencies and powerful private interests acting outside of the democratic means of accountability have sought to use a closed process to establish rules that will have the effect of binding legislation," the groups added.

In its response to these concerns, the Justice Department said there was no such retention requirement at issue but a data "preservation" provision.

"Preservation is not a new idea; it has been the law in the United States for nearly five years," the statement said.

Similarly, it discounted critics' fears that the convention would mandate surveillance capabilities be built into service providers' architecture.

But "there is no prohibition on states imposing such requirements if necessary under their legal systems," the posting said.

The latest draft by a panel of the Council of Europe, the 24th in a marathon that began in the late 1980s with U.S. support, was released on November 19. The United States has had a "real voice" in the drafting process, represented by the Departments of State and Justice in close consultation with other U.S. agencies, the FAQ said.

David Sobel, general counsel of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the Justice Department was in effect acknowledging that the treaty could be read "to require some things that are very controversial," including redesign of system architecture to facilitate surveillance.

Washington currently exempts Internet service providers from the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The law, crafted largely at the behest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, requires other U.S. telecommunications providers and equipment manufacturers to build in a window for court-ordered wiretaps.

Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the pact could force police in the United States to conduct searches under rules established by treaty "that don't respect the limits of police powers imposed by the U.S. Constitution."

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The Netherlands adopts cybercrime pact
November 30, 2000
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November 13, 2000
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November 9, 2000
Industry group: Security key to 'next generation' Web
November 8, 2000
Executives call for delay in cybercrime pact
November 8, 2000

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