Justice Readies Global Cyber Crime Plan

Justice Readies Global Cyber Crime Plan

By Neil Munro
Staff Writer

Congress will be asked to approve new computer security laws and industry will be pressed to increase cooperation with police officials as part of the Justice Department's international campaign to improve high-tech law enforcement.

These steps follow a Dec. 10 agreement by eight of the world's wealthiest countries to improve international cooperation against computer crime and to harmonize their high-tech laws.

Justice Department photo

Attorney General Janet Reno

One of the measures approved in the seven-point plan is intended to allow rapid and around-the-clock tracking of international computer hackers hiding in the Internet, according to Attorney General Janet Reno.

The agreement, whose elements are to be implemented over the next few years via new spending priorities, regulations and laws, was approved by cabinet officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, Italy and Canada.

"If we are to keep up with cybercrime, we must work together as never before," said Reno. The next step, said Reno, is for U.S. officials to draft a road map of needed legal and policy steps.

The most important feature of the agreement is that it establishes top-level cooperation among the eight nations, said Scott Charney, chief of the Justice Department's computer crime department.

No schedule for implementation of the agreement was set, nor did officials from the eight countries estimate the economic cost of computer crime.

The agreement does not discuss the controversial role of commercial encryption or wiretap technology. U.S. companies - and some overseas governments such as Denmark's - oppose a Justice Department plan that would promote use of wiretap-ready telephone and encryption technology, easing law enforcement's ability to tap suspect communications, following the approval from a judge.

The agreement may be followed by a treaty intended to combat computer crime among the nations of Europe, said Charney. The treaty, slated for completion by Dec. 31, 1999, is being negotiated by the European states in the multinational Council of Europe.

In the short run, the Justice Department may ask Congress to approve new computer-crime measures, including a federal law allowing law enforcement officials to require Internet service providers to quickly trace the electronic movements of hackers through the Internet, said Charney.

The new measure is needed because the provider, hacker and crime victims may be located in several states, each of which is governed by separate laws that would delay law enforcement officials, said Charney.

In the United States, law enforcement has recently been aided by Congress' approval of new laws intended to outlaw destructive computer hacking and the free distribution of stolen intellectual property, said Charney.

Justice Department officials also are trying to improve coordination with industry on common interests, such as secure online transactions, said Charney.

For example, law enforcement officials would be aided by the development of technology that could automatically detect the telephone number used by a hacker to send software commands or packets of data via the Internet.

The plan commits the signatories to:
  • Train sufficient experts to fight computer crime.
  • Establish 24-hour-a-day cooperation.
  • Develop faster ways to track Internet hackers.
  • Prosecute suspects if they cannot be extradited.
  • Develop means to preserve digital evidence.
  • Review national laws to boost high-tech law-enforcement.
  • Work with industry to detect and punish criminals.
  • However, governments will have a harder task building cooperation with the new and highly competitive Internet providers than with the long-established phone companies, warned Jack Straw, the U.K.'s Home Secretary.

    Officials from several countries, including Reno and Straw, emphasized that higher public priority and recognition be given to the cost and danger posed by computer-using criminals and computer-hacking terrorists. "Too many people don't realize how computers run our life, whether it is in the banking systems [or] the power system," said Reno.

    The agreement does not require U.S. officials to pursue or arrest computer-crime suspects for actions that are legal in the United States, even if requested to do so by foreign officials. For example, U.S. officials would not be obliged to close down World Wide Web sites that distribute Nazi propaganda, which is illegal under German law but constitutionally protected in the United States.

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