Computer crime treaty threatens human rights

Liberties groups take aim at Council of Europe over its draft cybercrime treaty

An international coalition of 28 human rights and civil liberties groups has called on the Council of Europe to alter its draft treaty on International cybercrime, warning that the agreement could violate the European Convention on Human Rights and rob Internet users of their freedom.

The Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC) attacks draft proposals to increase the power given to law enforcers to intercept international communications and traffic data as part of their investigations. The group says such measures would give police forces free range to wiretap Internet users and would be open to abuse.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Council of Europe secretary general Walter Schwimmer the GILC also objects to proposals that allow a country to have investigate individuals without first establishing that they have done something wrong. The group says this measure is also open to abuse by law enforcement bodies.

Another proposal of the treaty proposes to outlaw so-called "hacking tools" including network security tools. GILC members say that this would unnecessarily restrict the development of legitimate computer security technologies.

GILC said in a statement that the draft treaty is, "contrary to well established norms for the protection of the individual", adding, "it will undermine the development of network security techniques, and will reduce government accountability in future law enforcement conduct."

The Council of Europe has developed the draft treaty on cybercrime in order to combat what it sees as the growing threat of international computer crime. A cross border legal framework for investigating and prosecuting international high-tech crime is seen as vital to tackling the problem. Law enforcers are keen to tackle not just criminals using the Internet to carry out financial theft and fraud. Denial of service attacks and computer viruses are also seen as potentially very damaging.

The Group of Eight (G8), made up of the world's most wealthy industrialised nations, meets on 24 October to discuss the issues and may take a lead from the Council of Europe in drawing up a global treaty.

Yaman Akdeniz, director of Cyber Rights & Cyber Liberties, which is part of GILC, argues that the Council of Europe's treaty would deny European Internet users the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

"The development of the Internet requires the instillation of trust in Internet users and affirmation that their expectation of privacy in correspondence is legitimate. But it seems to be the Council of Europe has no trust and instead seeks to develop unjustified intrusive surveillance systems into the national legal systems of its member states."

Akdeniz says that the treaty would go further than the UK's controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIP) to increase intrusive and unwarranted government surveillance. Human rights groups have already warned that RIPA gives too much power to law enforcers to wiretap Internet users.

The Council of Europe is expected to finalise its treaty on cybercrime in December of this year.

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