Govt needs more than catch-up on cyber laws

Helen Clark's knowledge wave is at risk of becoming the knowledge bubble. Rather than be doomsayers though, let's look at what the PM can do to demonstrate to the IT industry her government's commitment to the knowledge economy.

Helen Clark’s knowledge wave is at risk of becoming the knowledge bubble.

Rather than be doomsayers, though, let's look at what the PM can do, in an election year, to demonstrate to the IT industry that her government’s commitment to the knowledge economy is serious and deserving of support.

There are some very simple things that can be done which would be a good start. The inadequate Crimes Amendment Bill (No 6), which makes hacking a crime is still, after three years, down the order paper. It appears that it may not be passed before the election.

This bill brings our criminal law into line with the laws of other western countries as at the mid-1990s. It does not address many known criminal threats to business but passing it would be a small token that the government has some understanding that our business infrastructure depends on computers. Failing to pass it would be a serious indication that the "knowledge economy" commitment is all puff and no action.

To be serious about reducing the risk to our business infrastructure we need to deter computer crime by having appropriate laws on our statute books.

However, why, if we are serious about the knowledge economy, should we limit our thinking to catch-up? Why not create an environment that speaks loudly to the international business community that this is a good place to do business and that we are serious about the risks of computer crime?

For example, the victims of an attack could be given meaningful rights of restitution against the offender. If an offender causes a server rebuild taking 30 hours, perhaps the victim should be able to donate a similar amount of the offender's time to providing "free" support by way of charity work teaching computing skills to the unemployed.

Another of the victim’s rights could be that the offender’s penalties (imprisonment as against community service) are based on the level of co-operation that the offender provides in a debriefing or assisting the victim. The victim could have rights to make confidential requests for assistance on rectification which, if not complied with, would alter the severity of the possible sentence that the courts could impose.

At a minimum the offender should be required, in order to avoid imprisonment, to fully set out the technology and techniques used in any computer attack and to enter into a very tough secrecy agreement.

These things are not rocket science. These things could be dealt with by an interested government in a few hours of Parliament’s time. As it stands, however, it appears that the knowledge wave is more about photo opportunities than getting down to business. We hope that with an election looming there will be an energetic response that proves that view wrong.

Horrocks is a partner and Miller a solicitor in Clendon Feeney’s technology law team. This article, together with further background comments and links, can be downloaded from Clendon Feeney's website. Questions and comments are welcome to Tech Law.

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