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US Ratifies Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime

On Aug. 3, 2006, the United States Senate ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, a multinational treaty that attempts to foster cooperation on prosecuting Internet-based crimes. Although some privacy organizations are protesting the treaty, overall, the response to America 's ratification of the treaty, especially commentary from leading American security companies, has been quite positive.

To-date, 38 counties have signed the treaty that requires that member countries establish as criminal offenses a wide variety of cyber-related activity, including "the access to the whole or any part of a computer system without right…when committed intentionally, the interception without right, made by technical means, of non-public transmissions of computer data to, from or within a computer system…the damaging, deletion, deterioration, alteration or suppression of computer data without right" (ibid.)., child pornography and other offenses. It also requires that signatory countries establish procedures for dealing with these crimes and provides a prosecutorial framework for international cooperation between signatory countries.

The real impact of ratifying the treaty for the US will be the resultant cooperation with other countries, which will help authorities to track and prosecute cyber crimes originating from countries that target the US .

Computer security companies are practically unanimous in praising the Senate's ratification of the treaty. For example, the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, a computer-security advocacy group, released a statement in which Executive Director Paul Kurtz said, "Today marks an important milestone in the fight against international cybercrime. Through its support of the cybercrime treaty, the US is strengthening international laws and empowering law enforcement authorities to protect our information-based systems" (see

However, the Senate's ratification of the treaty has also drawn criticism, primarily from privacy groups. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) statement on the ratification calls that treaty the "World's Worst Internet Law" and claims that "the treaty requires that the US government help enforce other countries' 'cybercrime' laws, even if the act being prosecuted is not illegal in the United States.” This reportedly means, in EFF's view, that “countries with laws limiting free speech on the Net could oblige the FBI to uncover the identities of anonymous American critics or monitor their communications on behalf of foreign governments." The EFF also claims that "American ISPs would be obliged to obey other jurisdictions' requests to log their users' behavior without due process or compensation" (see "Critics Clash Over Cybercrime Convention," Infoworld , Aug. 7, 2006 ,

Complaints about the treaty by privacy groups seem overblown, though. The EFF's view that the treaty requires the US to assist in the prosecution of cyber crimes that are not illegal in this country is irrelevant, since other signatories to the treaty have criminalized few, if any, activities that the US has not deemed to be illegal (if countries with tighter restrictions on Internet usage, such as China, join the treaty, this could become much more problematic). US officials have taken freedom-of-speech concerns into account and say that the treaty will not override constitutional protections. For example, the US opted out of the "hate speech" component of the treaty since many European countries have much tougher restrictions on freedom of speech than the US .

For corporations whose activities are possibly impacted by the treaty, the effects will most likely be minimal, since the bulk of activities stipulated by the treaty are best practices anyway. Thus, if adhered to by the signatory companies, the treaty provides significant benefits and no major additional burdens.

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