Council of Europe ratifies cybercrime treaty

The 'first international treaty' to deal with internet-based lawbreakers will come into effect next year

An 'anti-cybercrime treaty' designed to impose penalties on those breaking the law via the internet, originally adopted in November 2001, is finally to get the green light. It just needed to be ratified by a minimum of five countries in order to come into force and Croatia, Albania, Estonia, Hungary and Lithuania have signed on the dotted line.

The Convention on Cybercrime will come into effect on 1 July next year. The document, touted as the "first international treaty" to deal with breaches of law "over the internet or other information networks" was originally adopted over two years ago. The convention is the fruit of four years of negotiations at the heart of the Council of Europe, a consultative assembly of 43 countries, based in Strasbourg.

The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Walter Scwimmer, congratulated the states on "this important step in the fight against technological crime. Cybercrime is a major international challenge which needs a coordinated international effort. That's why I am calling on all the member states of the Council of Europe who have yet to sign or ratify the treaty to do it as a matter of utmost priority," he said in a statement.

In addition, in 2002, the Council of Europe ratified several measures designed to prevent racism and xenophobia on the internet, which have been integrated into an additional protocol as part of the Convention on Cybercrime. It demands that member states criminalise the dissemination of racist material using IT systems, as well threats or insults with a racist or xenophobic motivation, the denial, gross minimisation, approval or justification of genocide or crimes against humanity.

One nation ratifying the Convention on Cybercrime isn't obliged to adhere to the protocol, which is targeted at "those who wish to take the step," said the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. In 2002, the US announced it wouldn't sign the protocol, which it says would be against its Constitution.