Crimes bill rush job disappoints

The government's attempt to bring computer-related offences into the criminal code is very disappointing, says Clendon Feeney managing partner and technology law expert Craig Horrocks.

The Crimes Amendment Bill (number six) is very disappointing, says Clendon Feeney managing partner and technology law expert Craig Horrocks.

Instead of consulting with people in the industry on the real issues, the government has rushed through a half-hearted, patchwork approach that will leave many of the most serious problems unresolved, he says.

The bill will create three new computer offences when it is passed into law, says Justice Minister Tony Ryall.

Offences will include the dishonest use of a computer, attempting to dishonestly use a computer and intentional or reckless serious damage to a computer. The new offences will carry maximum penalties of seven years' imprisonment.

After a second reading in Parliament on October 6, the bill has been referred to the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee and the public will have the opportunity to make submissions on it "in due course", says Ryall.

The bill will redefine "property" to clearly include property that can't be physically touched, such as the balance of a bank account. It will also extend the definition of "document" to include electronic documents held on computers. A recent court case raised questions about whether such documents legally "exist", says Ryall.

A further offence of "hacking" or "cracking" is also proposed, but Horrocks says there is much more danger from employees and other authorised users who delete software or files. "Criminal damage as defined so far in the bill won't cover that," he says. For example, in two recent cases employees have deleted or password protected files to cover up fraud or spite their employers.

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