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Computer Crime - International Computer Crime

cyber internet online treaty

Since the Internet is not limited by geography, crimes committed in cyberspace can easily achieve global dimensions. Systems can be accessed from anywhere in the world, and locating perpetrators is difficult. Many computer fraud and embezzlement schemes target international financial networks. Organized crime groups can utilize information technology to evade identification and carry out drug trafficking and money laundering on a global scale. Questions of jurisdiction and apprehension become much more complicated in international cyberspace.

Estimates place annual business losses to cyber crime at roughly $1.5 billion. Many hackers are based in countries far from those they affect. For example, the author of the Love Bug virus that affected the United States was located in the Philippines. Many authorities suspect that organized "cyber-crime gangs" frequently originate in developing countries, such as the former Soviet republics where computer-crime laws are lax and enforcement is haphazard.

Individual countries vary widely in the legal approaches they have taken to regulating the Internet. Some strictly observant Islamic nations have tried to contain the dissemination of information online, which they view as containing messages potentially harmful to their populaces. Germany has tried to restrict Web sites containing Neo-Nazi content. China installed firewalls to prevent its citizens from accessing unauthorized sites, and Burma bans Internet access completely.

Britain has led in the passage of legislation designed to combat "cyber-terrorism." In February 2000 it passed the British Terrorism Act, which includes in its ban on terrorist groups those who disrupt hospitals or power supplies by hacking into computer systems. A revision of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act gives police broad access to e-mail and other online communications.

The Council of Europe's proposed cyber-crime treaty, the initial draft of which was released in April 2000, generated the most controversy of any international cyber legislation proposed to date. It spans a broad spectrum of cyber-crimes from copyright infringement to online terrorism. The treaty seeks to harmonize European criminal laws regarding data interception, interference, and online fraud. Any member nation's enforcement authorities would be granted online entry to any other state in order to pursue a cyber-crime investigation. Governments also could also employ new powers on wiretapping, real-time collection of traffic data, and the search and seizure of digital information. Opponents worry that the treaty ignores individual civil liberties and intellectual property rights. Many U.S. business and governmental officials also oppose adoption of the treaty in its proposed form.

Finally, the global interconnection of computer systems fostered a push for international cooperation to combat computer-related crimes. In 1998 Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States agreed to coordinate efforts to investigate and prosecute cyber-crimes. Among the solutions under debate was an international treaty to standardize domestic cyber-crime laws. Thorny topics include the extent to which governments should allow the free movement of data encryption, which protects the electronic information from compromise but also can be used by criminals to shield their activities. Increased government surveillance of online communications is criticized by privacy advocates and members of various ethnic and racial groups, who feel that it constitutes a form of illegal profiling. The regulation of content, which might suppress hate speech or child pornography, faces obstacles from proponents of free expression.


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