President Clinton on Saturday established a working group to address cybercrimes, including online sales of illegal drugs and explosives, and online child pornography trafficking.
The working group is charged with determining whether existing federal laws are sufficient to combat Internet-related crime.
Also, in what seems like a call for widespread key escrow for encrypted communications, Clinton ordered the task force to determine "the extent to which new technology tools, capabilities or legal authorities may be required for effective investigation and prosecution of unlawful conduct" online.
The issue of key escrow -- allowing law enforcement a guaranteed "back door" into encrypted online messages -- is hugely controversial, and has been a central bone of contention in the debate over the Clinton administration's encryption export policies. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Louis Freeh, is a vocal supporter of key escrow, but online privacy advocates believe any such plan would be disastrous for individual Internet users.
"It's a valid concern," said David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, when asked whether the move is a precursor to a more aggressive key escrow push.
Why no wider investigation?
With the controversy over illegal Internet porn and online drug and gun sales having sizzled for some time, Sobel said it's unclear why the White House should now launch a wider investigation.
It's also unclear what action, if any, Clinton will take after the group completes its report, a White House spokesman told ZDNN Monday.
Clinton could urge Congress to pass new Net crime laws, although there is no specific plan for him to do so, the spokesman said.
Another administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the task force's work won't be specifically aimed at the key escrow issue.
"We just wanted to take a step back and see what new laws, if any, are needed" to address cybercrimes, the official told ZDNN.
The task force will include Freeh, Attorney General Janet Reno, and other federal officials, such as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Commerce Secretary and the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The co-chairs of the Advisory Commission on E-Commerce will serve as liaisons.
Clinton ordered the group to complete a report within 120 days, and many federal agencies will have a chance to respond before it is made public.