Council of Europe approves cybercrime treaty

The Convention will mark the first ever international set of laws to crack down on cybercrime

The Council of Europe Ministers' Deputies has approved the first international convention on cybercrime, which will set a common criminal policy on the misuse of computer networks and electronic information for terrorist or illegal activity.

The draft will be presented to a meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Strasbourg on 8 November, with the so-called "opening for signature" by member states taking place at an international conference in Budapest at the end of November. The Convention will enter into force when five states -- which must include at least three member states of the Council of Europe -- have ratified it.

The US will be one of the non-member states signing up to the agreement. It is unclear whether the timetable for the treaty has been brought forward in order to address the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington last week, but the main objective of the Convention is to foster international cooperation in protecting society against cybercrime.

"The US [terrorist] events have put these issues into a sharper focus -- there will be various statements coming at a European level in response to concerns raised in the States," said Richard Swetenham at the European Union Safer Internet Action Plan. "But it is uncertain whether this will have an impact on Strasbourg's timetable."

The Convention deals specifically with the distribution of child pornography on the Internet, infringements of copyright, computer-related fraud and violations of network security. It will also be supplemented by an additional protocol making any publication of racist material on the Internet a criminal offence.

The treaty also addresses the controversial interception of communications data for the purpose of criminal investigations, and requires signatory states to grant law enforcement authorities the power to collect or record traffic or content data in domestic law. It also provides measures for electronic information to be preserved by and Internet Service Provider for longer than the billing period, "in particular when there are grounds to believe that the computer data is particularly vulnerable to loss or modification."

The Convention on Cybercrime is the product of four years' work by Council of Europe experts, as well as those in the US, Canada and Japan. In the UK, its measures are likely to be ratified by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act -- the final parts of which are scheduled to be implemented later this year.

See the Net Crime News Section for the latest on hacking, fraud, viruses and related issues.

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