UK legislation aimed at protecting computer users from hackers and spammers is to investigated by an influential group of MPs.
Legislation must keep pace with e-crime, say MPs
The All Party Parliamentary Internet Group is to look at whether the laws need updating as e-crime becomes more prevalent and sophisticated.
The MPs will question industry figures, government officials and the public on possible revisions to the law.
The group is due to report its findings in June.
Time for change?
In the past APIG has looked at various strands of the government's policy towards the internet and technology and has been particularly critical of its plans to snoop on e-mail communications.
Many of its members believe the time is overdue for an overhaul of current legislation.
"The Computer Misuse Act dates from 1990. Fourteen years on the technological advance and increasing sophistication of the internet has outstripped its capacity to deal with the generality of e-crime adequately," said APIG member The Earl of Northesk.
He suggested amendments to the act two years ago which received a somewhat lukewarm reaction from the then minister, Lord Bassam.
"If strengthening and recasting of the Computer Misuse Act was urgent then, and I believe it was, it is even more so now," he said.
Home Office Minister Caroline Flint identified changes to the legislation as a priority at the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit's e-crime congress last month.
Derek Wyatt, chairman of APIG, believes a lot can be done to tighten UK and European legislation in relation to e-crime.
"There is a lot of very disruptive activity on the internet, from outright hacking and the distribution of viruses, through denial of service attacks on systems, and right down to the sending of spam via insecure end-user machines," he said.
"Some of it seems to fall into grey areas or is difficult to deal with across jurisdictional borders. We need to know if the law, both in the UK and elsewhere, needs strengthening," he added.
APIG member Brian White is convinced that major changes will not be necessary, but raising penalties, increasing the seriousness of e-offences and making clear that new crimes such as denial-of-service attacks will be covered by the legislation could all help prevent such crimes.
Figures in the technology industry have welcomed the inquiry but question whether its remit is too narrow.
"Computer crime is a global issue," said David Williamson of the computer security firm Ubizen.
"Computer attacks on UK companies can be generated by criminals anywhere in the world and global collaboration is crucial to combating this wave of illegal activity.
"The public hearing represents an important opportunity to introduce the concept of a global computer crime directive. This idea clearly needs to be a key part of the discussion."