Cybercrime treaty may conflict with UN declaration

Will the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be enshrined in international cybercrime law?

A leading UK Internet rights group is to warn United Nations representatives that international plans to fight cybercrime pose a serious menace to the privacy and rights of all Internet users.

Yaman Akdeniz, director of Cyber Rights & Cyber Liberties is expected to warn that developing techniques to combat high-tech crime could lead to unjustified Internet surveillance. He is also expected to call for increased consultation with human rights organisations. He will caution that plans put forward by the Council of Europe and debated by the G8 nations threaten to create an intrusive surveillance infrastructure and restrict freedom of expression online.

Akdeniz will issue the warning at a United Nations Symposium for the Media on the Convention against Transnational Organised Crime on Wednesday in Palermo, Italy.

The Council of Europe, a 41-nation intergovernmental organisation that works to harmonise national law and policy, has been working since May 1997 to develop the first global treaty for tackling computer crime. The G8 summit, made up of the world's richest nations, has also met to discuss the treaty and discuss developing better communications between international police forces.

The Council of Europe's draft treaty has, however, been attacked for proposing to outlaw certain computer security tools, enforcing surveillance at ISPs and giving investigators powers to seize the keys used to obfuscate encrypted messages. Although the Council recently reworked the treaty and sought to reassure campaigners that it would not be oppressive, Akdeniz says that it is still being developed from a mistrustful perspective.

"New media historically face suspicion and are liable to excessive regulation as it sparks fears as to the potential detrimental effects it may have on society," reads Akdeniz's statement on behalf of Cyber Rights & Cyber Liberties. "[Governments] should cooperate to respect fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and privacy and should encourage rather than limit the peoples' usage of the Internet through excessive regulation."

Akdeniz says that the treaty should be developed according to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and believes that the consultation process has not included the concerns of many civil liberties groups.

"So far, we have not witnessed openness, and transparency in the drafting of the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention, and in relation to G8 initiatives to fight cybercrimes," he says. Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties calls for NGOs (Non Government Organisations) to be present at the meetings held by the Council of Europe and the G8 nations.

Those that back these international plans emphasise the importance of creating a framework for policing the Internet and argue that they are being developed with every concern for individual rights. "We have absolutely no intention of breaching the European Convention of Human Rights," says a spokeswoman for the UK government. "The government is committed to action against high-tech crime in line with making the UK the best and safest place in the world to conduct e-business."

Computer hacking and viruses are viewed as rapidly growing menaces to global businesses and citizens. Crime fighting organisations including Interpol have called for international cooperation on tracking and prosecuting computer criminals.

Terrorists and paedophiles are thought to use the Internet to communicate and organise their activities. Other crimes that need new international attention in light of widespread computer communications are copyright violation, data theft and piracy.

The UK government introduced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act earlier this year. It is designed to clamp down on computer criminals by allowing police to tap ISPs for traffic and it was recently revealed that law enforcers hope to store Internet traffic for years. These plans have been soundly criticised by privacy advocates, who believe that they may set a precedent for international surveillance.

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