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International Cyber-Sleuths Demand New Powers
By Bernhard Warner, European Internet Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - It has become a familiar tactic in a criminal investigator's 
arsenal: the seizure of a suspect's personal computer for the purpose of dissecting 
the hard drive for possible clues or motives.

FBI (news - web sites) agents did just that in the days after the September 11 plane 
hijack attacks on America, when they confiscated two computers from a Delray Beach, 
Florida public library that were allegedly used by suspects.

A subsequent computer search revealed a host of clues from the electronic footprints 
left behind by hijacking suspects that pointed to a worldwide web of conspirators that 
stretched to Germany, Saudi Arabia and ultimately, Afghanistan (news - web sites).

The suspects had downloaded a ``significant amount of information'' about crop 
dusting, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) told a Congressional 
committee in September. The discovery prompted U.S. officials to temporarily ground 
all crop-dusting planes.

In the world of cops and robbers, cyber-sleuthing has become an essential part of the 
job. Police organizations such as Spain's Guardia Civil use its official Web site to 
alert the public to new criminal threats and solicit tips, while governments of Japan 
and South Korea (news - web sites) have begun working with the business sector to 
crack down on hacking attacks. At the same time, the medium's global reach has created 
a new variety of borderless crimes, authorities say.

``What will be interesting to see is the upcoming generation,'' said an investigator 
at National Crime Information Center (NCIC) in London, who asked not to be named. 
``Once they start going through the prison system, Internet-related crimes will get 
really interesting.''

But, authorities add, because so many incidents go unreported, there are no reliable 
statistics on cybercrime.

WANTED: SUSPECT WITH MOUSE

Detective work is increasingly moving from seedy back alleyways to Internet chat rooms 
and back onto the streets, essentially following in the footsteps of criminals who use 
the Internet to plan all manners of crimes -- from credit card fraud to murder, 
investigators say.

Last year, incoming Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble identified high-tech crime 
as ``one of the new security threats.'' In one of his first acts, he tripled the size 
of the force's cybercrime unit and increased its budget, said Michael Holstein, crime 
intelligence officer at Interpol.

Holstein said a main function of the unit is to establish for its 179 member states a 
standard procedure for digital evidence collection. Investigators lament that it can 
be difficult to get digital evidence admitted into a court proceeding.

To stay ahead of the changing face of crime, law enforcement officials and politicians 
are seeking greater powers to conduct online surveillance. Ashcroft, for instance, has 
asked a House Judiciary committee for increased authority to conduct telephone and 
Internet wiretaps to aid in ``the war on terrorism.''

Congress did pass a law expanding security powers, though that specific request was 
turned down. But civil liberties groups believe growing public sentiment to step up 
homeland security could result in the creation of greater police powers.

EUROPE STEPS INTO GLOBAL CYBERCRIME DEBATE

In September, the Council of Europe approved the Convention on Cybercrime, a historic 
treatise that lays the foundation for legislation allowing for a greater sharing of 
information between countries to combat the rise of cybercrime.

The treatise isn't binding, but instead would have to be adopted into law by its 43 
European member states and five outside countries including the United States, Canada 
and Japan.

The treaty is broad, covering crimes committed on the Internet such as fraud, child 
pornography and violations of computer network security. It also sets up global 
policing procedures for conducting computer searches, interception of e-mails, and 
extradition of criminal suspects.

``What the treaty does is to bring together law enforcement power with defining 
offenses, and it adds international cooperation so that countries can assist one 
another,'' Peter Csonka, director general of legal affairs for the Council of Europe, 
told Reuters.

Yaman Akdeniz, director of Cyber-rights.org, a U.K. human rights group, fears the 
treaty may be too broad. ``It's not balanced. It's too favorable to the law 
enforcement community,'' said Akdeniz.

It may take years before most countries actually adopt the Council's recommendations 
into law. But observers point out that the effects are already evident. Since 
September 11, criminal investigators are sharing information with greater regularity.

``Our concept is to have as many member states get involved in an investigation as 
possible,'' Interpol's Holstein said.

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