Monday, December 29, 1997 Published at 00:12 GMT
Straw to tackle cyber crime
Time to chase the cyber criminals
Police and intelligence agencies could be given Europe-wide powers to intercept secret messages sent on the Internet by criminals under proposals being considered by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.
Mr Straw is determined to make greater European cooperation in the fight against international crime a key theme of the six-month European Union presidency which the United Kingdom takes up in the first six months of 1998.
Tackling exploitation of the Internet by sophisticated "cyber criminals" is high on a shopping list of projects on which he hopes to use the UK's position in the chair to make progress.
It reflects growing concern that criminals, from international terrorist groups to paedophile rings, can use Internet technology such as e-mail to flash encrypted messages around the globe.
"We are using 19th Century procedures to pursue 21st Century criminals," he said.
At present, Internet service providers are under no obligation to give police information, although some co-operate, particularly during pornography investigations.
But any moves to give the authorities the power to intercept private Internet messages could prove highly controversial with civil liberties groups.
In the United States, the Clinton administration and the FBI provoked an outcry in Congress when they put forward proposals to give federal authorities access to private encrypted communications.
Other proposals Mr Straw is anxious to move forward include the establishment of 24-hour contact points in each country to enable the authorities to crack down on computer criminals quickly.
He wants to see an extension of the use of video links to allow witnesses in one country to give evidence in a trial in another country.
"Organised crime is no respecter of international borders and it is crucial that we recognise that reality," he said.
The concerns raised by Mr Straw reflect the mood of a recent meeting he attended in Washington of interior and justice ministers from the G8 group of leading industrialised nations.
At the meeting, five main areas of cyber crime were identified: