US Senate ratifies cybercrime treaty

By ratifying a long-neglected cybercrime treaty, the U.S. Senate is promoting greater international cooperation in tracking and prosecuting online crimes, supporters say.

The Senate late Thursday voted to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime, approved by the European group in 2001. U.S. President George Bush sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification in November 2003, and groups such as the Cyber Security Industry Alliance (CSIA) and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) have called for the Senate to act on the treaty.

The U.S. is the 16th country to ratify the treaty out of 43 countries that signed on to support the agreement.

The treaty calls for signatory nations to cooperate on cybercrime investigations, although the U.S. government could deny cooperation requests when they violate U.S. free speech or other rights. The treaty also calls for signatory countries to pass similar cybercrime laws, addressing issues such as computer intrusion, computer-facilitated fraud, child pornography and copyright infringement, but the U.S. already has a robust set of related laws.

CSIA and BSA both praised the Senate, which adjourned Friday until early September, for voting to ratify the treaty.

“Cyber criminals are not limited by borders, and this treaty will help ensure that law enforcement isn’t either,” Robert Holleyman, BSA’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Some privacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have opposed the treaty, saying it will harm civil liberties. The treaty grants “sweeping investigative powers” to search and seize computer equipment without judicial approval needed, EPIC said in a July 2005 letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The treaty does not require that an action be illegal in both countries before one nation’s law enforcement can demand cooperation from another’s, EPIC said.

The treaty also has weak privacy protections, EPIC said. “The Cybercrime Convention is much more like a law enforcement ‘wish list’ than an international instrument truly respectful of human rights,” EPIC said in the letter.

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