European officials met on Friday in a high-level push to persuade more countries to sign up to an international effort combating cybercrime.
At a conference in Strasbourg, delegates from governments, police forces and businesses around the world are meeting to discuss the ratification of the Council of Europe's Cybercrime Convention. So far 30 countries have signed the treaty, which aims to align international law on cybercrime, but only eight have actually implemented it in national law. The UK has signed the convention, but has not yet ratified it. The treaty came into force in July of this year.
Signatories include a number of countries outside of Europe, but the treaty's international nature is proving to be a stumbling block. Some governments are said to be wary of potentially being required to make data on their citizens available to other governments. In 2002, the US announced it wouldn't adhere to the protocol, which it says would be against its Constitution.
Cybercrime issues discussed at the conference are to include fraud, copyright and child pornography.
There were an estimated 600 million Internet users in 2002, double the number in 1999, according to a Council of Europe report. "Societies need to be protected against cybercrime," the report said. "But there must be freedom to use and develop information and communication technologies properly, and a guarantee that people can be free to express themselves."
The council noted that organised crime has become well-established in cyberspace, using the Internet for human trafficking and other crimes. Research from the Internet Fraud Complaints Centre showed that criminals caused between 150bn euros (£100bn) and 200bn euros worth of damage in 2003.
On the flip side, international cybercrime law can make things difficult for law-enforcement authorities, the council said. FBI agents who used hacking techniques to find two hackers in Russia were counter-charged with cybercrime offences, the council noted in its report.