DOJ steps into Kiwi cyber-law fray

The US Department of Justice has offered to help write cyber-laws for a number of countries that are lagging, including New Zealand.

The US Department of Justice has offered to help write cyber-laws for a number of countries that are lagging, including New Zealand.

"Federal government has offered to provide an assistant US attorney to overseas departments to advise on the essential elements of computer crimes," says IT lawyer Craig Horrocks, recently returned from a workshop on electronic crimes run by the DOJ in Boston.

While Russia has already accepted the offer, Horrocks understands the New Zealand government has yet to respond. "The US can lead the way but if there are renegade states who are either too lazy or too stupid to take this issue seriously, they will become havens for electronic criminals," says Horrocks.

A spokesperson for the associate minister of justice says it hasn't yet been approached by the DOJ on this matter.

New Zealand has no laws covering any type of computer crime save for the theft of an actual computer. Even the simple act of transferring funds electronically is unprotected.

In April 1999, Computerworld ran the story ("Urgent cyber-law report languishes on govt shelf") about the case R vs Wilkinson - Wilkinson was charged with dishonestly obtaining money from a financial institution by claiming to own various vehicles and machinery that could be used as collateral. Although he was at first found guilty of "obtaining by false pretences", the Court of Appeal subsequently ruled in his favour because the bank had electronically transferred the money to Wilkinson's partnership account instead of paying him by cheque or cash.

Minister of Justice at the time, Tony Ryall, told Computerworld the law would be tightened up with haste, but 13 months later the law is still on the books and it is still not illegal to steal money if it's transferred to a bank account electronically.

Director of the Centre for Banking Studies at Massey University David Tripe, warns the loophole must be tightened or face a situation where it's "open-slather for fraud".

ASB Bank is the only New Zealand bank willing to discuss the matter on record.

"Politicians need to appreciate the rapid growth in e-commerce and the number of transactions that are starting to go over the Internet," says manager for electronic banking Matthew Bartlettt.

"They need to get a grip on it in terms of laws and remedies that they put in place otherwise they will jeopardise the future of e-commerce in New Zealand."

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