Tags: Warning: | Internet | Privacy | Risk

Warning: Internet Privacy at Risk

Wednesday, 09 May 2001 12:00 AM

Ever since the Internet provided a means for ordinary citizens to get around or go over the heads of the mainstream media, government officials have been trying to figure out a way to "tame” it.

Next month, the Council of Europe’s Cybercrime Convention is planning to complete and submit an international treaty for ratification by all nations, including the United States.

Under the heading "Fear of a Hacked Planet,” Smartbusiness.com, in its May issue, quotes last year’s testimony by then-Deputy Associate Attorney General Ethan M. Posner as telling a congressional hearing that the Cybercrime Convention "will define cybercrime offenses and address such topics as jurisdiction, international cooperation, and search and seizure.”

The Justice Department has supported the convention as a means to get a handle on worldwide cybercrime, which knows no borders.

The question is whether the solution is worse than the disease, and whether the effort to catch crooks ends up "shooting everyone else in the foot.”

James X. Dempsey, senior staff counsel for the Center for Democracy in Technology, warns: "Consumers and businesses should be worried because the treaty promotes wiretapping and e-mail interception without strong privacy protections. Businesses have the additional ground to be worried that they will be subject to criminal liability for things that are not criminal under U.S. law.”

One example is Yahoo’s sale of Nazi memorabilia, illegal in France but not in the United States. Would the U.S. be required to enforce a French criminal judgment?

Furthermore, a part of the treaty "could render a service provider criminally liable for unlawful material placed on its service by a third party, merely by failing to remove it,” according to the center.

And in dealing with computer fraud, Dempsey fears the treaty "is drafted so broadly that it could criminalize virtually any use of the Internet that causes economic harm to a competitor as well as routine activities such as blocking unsolicited e-mail.”

Smartbusiness.com says Department of Justice officials have reportedly tried to allay fears by asserting that ambiguities of the treaty will be clarified by an accompanying memorandum.

Not good enough, says Dempsey. That memo would not have the force of law.

When you consider the FBI failed to get the green light to gain access to encrypted data here at home, e-security services provider Peter Harter thinks the bill is "just unworkable and will fall of its own dead weight.”

Dr. Alexander Galitsky, founder of the network security company TrustWorks systems, expresses the view that international laws on cybercrime are in fact, needed.

He makes the same observation about the Internet that many made about radio broadcasting when it came on the scene way back in the 1920s. He says "technology develops very quickly, but the culture to use that technology doesn’t.”

In radio’s early days before the Federal Communications Commission, radio stations were jamming each other’s frequencies, and there was a chaotic lack of order.

Similarly, he says, the future of the Internet "lies in updating our culture, as well."

Of course, it wasn’t long before the FCC was getting more and more deeply involved in radio station programming through the law that alluded to "the public interest.” Could such a foot-in-the-door syndrome happen to the Internet on an international scale? Galitsky doesn’t think so.

"We teach our children not to break windows, but we don’t teach them not to break networks.”

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Ever since the Internet provided a means for ordinary citizens to get around or go over the heads of the mainstream media, government officials have been trying to figure out a way to tame" it. Next month, the Council of Europe's Cybercrime Convention is planning to...
Wednesday, 09 May 2001 12:00 AM
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