BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC NEWS
 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

SERVICES 
Friday, 28 September, 2001, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Hackers 'branded as terrorists'
President Bush at the FBI
Bush toughening laws to fight terrorism
By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

Hackers could be labelled as dangerous terrorists under new legislation being proposed by the Bush administration, civil liberties groups have warned.


A relatively harmless online prankster should not face a potential life sentence in prison

Shari Steele, EFF
The Anti-Terrorism Act adds computer hacking to the list of federal terrorism offences, with penalties of up to life imprisonment.

"Treating low-level computer crimes as terrorist acts is not an appropriate response to recent events," said Shari Steele, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based cyber civil liberties group.

The new bill, which would expand law enforcement's freedom to catch and punish terrorists, was put forward by US Attorney General John Ashcroft following the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

Broad powers

As well as making hacking a terrorist offence, it would create penalties of up to life imprisonment, adding broad pre-conviction seizure powers and serious criminal threats to those who help or shelter individuals suspected of causing minimal damage to networked computers.

"A relatively harmless online prankster should not face a potential life sentence in prison," said the EFF's Shari Steele.

US Attorney General Ashcroft
Ashcroft: Accused of rushing measures through
The bill also eliminates the statute of limitations for terrorist crimes and will apply retroactively. This could affect past hackers and virus writers, who might have otherwise received just a warning or a relatively minor penalty.

Civil liberties groups are concerned that the legislation is being rushed through, without adequate debate on its impact on both security and personal freedoms.

"Congress must take every reasonable step it can to protect our nation against future attacks," said Laura W Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The civil liberties we value so much as a society are at stake. We urge you to go slowly," she said.

Cyber warnings

Officials and academics have warned that cyber attacks could be a dangerous part of warfare against the US.


The potential exists for much more devastating cyber attacks following any US-led retaliation to the 11 September terrorist attacks on America

Institute for Security Technology Studies
"The vast majority of previous politically related cyber attacks have been nuisance attacks, and it is extremely likely that such attacks will follow any US-led military action," said a recent report by the US-based Institute for Security Technology Studies.

It added that, "the potential exists for much more devastating cyber attacks following any US-led retaliation to the 11 September terrorist attacks on America. Such an attack could significantly debilitate US and allied information networks".

Backers of the Anti-Terrorism Act argue the bill is not aimed at teenage hackers.

The clause is one of the many points of the legislation currently under discussion between the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Bush administration.

See also:

12 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
US computer networks at risk
20 Sep 01 | Americas
US plans wide-ranging response
25 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Virus exploits terror attacks
21 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Tackling terror with technology
Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories