Council of Europe pushes for single cybercrime treaty

New Zealand signalled its intentions in 2008

A European intergovernmental body that oversees the only international cybercrime treaty is advocating that the UN supports its efforts to get wider ratification of the treaty.

The UN is scheduled to hold its 12th congress on crime prevention and criminal justice in Salvador, Brazil, from April 12 to April 19. The congress is scheduled to discuss cybercrime along with various crime prevention measures.

Cybercriminals will not wait while the international community spends a couple of years figuring out "how to reinvent wheel rather than use and possibly improve upon what is already there," said Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, deputy secretary general of the Council of Europe during open remarks at the organization's cybercrime conference on Tuesday.

"I think we will have the best chance to succeed if we unite around one international instrument that already exists," de Boer-Buquicchio said. "The more countries which join it, the better chance we have to gain ground against cybercriminals." In 2008, the New Zealand government signalled it was planning to become party to the European Convention on Cybercrime.

New Zealand already provides in its domestic law for most of the measures outlined under the convention, signed by the countries of the European Union and also by the US and requiring laws against the misuse of computer systems, money laundering, the production and distribution of child pornography and copyright offences.

But the convention has some controversial provisions, such as an obligation on member states to “obtain the expeditious preservation of specified computer data” sought by another state as evidence of an alleged crime — even when the act associated with the evidence is not a crime in the state that holds the data.

Fears have been expressed that an autocratic government could pressure a more liberal governments under this provision to provide data on acts the latter would consider protected by legislation, such as the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

Civil liberties organisations also fear signatory states could be required to cooperate with, for example, conservative “hate-speech” laws.

The Council of Europe, created in 1949, oversees human rights issues for its 47 country members. It also is the chief entity behind the Convention on Cybercrime.

The treaty has formed a foundation for global law enforcement of cyberspace, requiring countries to have a representative available 24 hours a day to assist in investigations.

The Council has been working since that time to help countries establish effective computer crime laws. Countries can sign the treaty, and once their laws conform with the treaty, their national legislatures can ratify it.

Progress has been steady but slow. So far 27 countries have ratified the treaty, but more than 100 are using the treaty as a basis for reforming their laws. But legislative procedures take time, which has meant ratifications aren't quick.

Some countries, such as South Africa, are close to ratification, said Alexander Seger, head of the economic crime division at the Council. The Council, which offers legal guidance to countries on how they can develop new laws, is working with Nigeria and other African countries, he said.

"Africa is an important continent for us," he said.

More than 300 law enforcement, industry and other experts are meeting through Thursday in Strasbourg, France, for the Council's cybercrime conference. Among the issues discussed are training for prosecutors and judges in e-crime issues, network abuse concerns, regulation and law enforcement cooperation with Internet governance organisations.

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