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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 14:18 GMT
Cybercrime treaty condemned
Net crime BBC
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

A draft European treaty on cybercrime has been condemned as "appalling" by civil liberty groups around the globe.

The draft treaty is contrary to well-established norms for the protection of the individual

Global Internet Liberty Campaign
In all, 23 organisations have signed a letter warning that the treaty will do serious damage to civil liberties under the guise of helping law enforcers catch computer criminals.

They warn that if the treaty is adopted it will dramatically restrict the free flow of information and ideas.

British signatories to the protest letter say the treaty goes further than the controversial UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in giving police powers to snoop with impunity.

Draft details

Since 1997, the 41-nation Council of Europe has been working on the Cybercrime Treaty, which tries to harmonise laws against malicious hacking, virus writing, fraud and child pornography on the net.

It also aims to ensure that police forces in separate countries gather the same standard of evidence to help track and catch criminals across borders.

Late last month, the Council released the 22nd draft of the treaty for perusal by interested groups, and immediately won condemnation from civil liberty groups for its draconian tone.

Thirty-five organisations co-ordinated by umbrella organisation the Global Internet Liberty Campaign urged the Council to change the treaty saying: "The draft treaty is contrary to well-established norms for the protection of the individual."

Critical mass

Last week, a new draft of the treaty was released, which the Council claims, answers many of the criticisms made of the treaty in the hundreds of e-mails, letters and faxes it received after the initial posting.

But many of the organisations which voiced concern over the first public draft say the new version does little to allay their fears.

The treaty "continues to be a document that threatens the rights of the individual while extending the powers of police authorities", they say. The groups believe that unless significant changes are made, the treaty will have "a chilling effect on the free flow of information and ideas" on the internet.

The GILC claims changes to the treaty have only been made to mollify US concerns about conflicts with the First Amendment rather than because of any concerns for fundamental civil rights.

Closed doors

"No-one is opposed in principle to an international treaty," said Caspar Bowden of the Foundation for Information Policy Research and one of the signatories to the protest letter. "But there's all sorts of things wrong with this one."

Mr Bowden said one of the most worrying aspects of the treaty was the fact that it had been drafted behind closed doors and gave no forum to organisations keen to contribute. "There's no intention to have a public conference where the differences of opinion can be thrashed out," Mr Bowden said.

Those signing the protest letter say the treaty rides rough shod over privacy concerns by giving law enforcement agencies wide-ranging snooping powers they can use without getting the permissions required when domestic surveillance is carried out.

The snooping powers can also be invoked for much more mundane crimes than those typically thought to justify invasive surveillance.

The treaty also allows people to be charged with computer crimes even though the country where they live does not consider what they did as a crime.

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