E-crime bill risks missing deadline

The Crimes Amendment Bill (number six) may not reach the justice and law reform select committee before parliament rises for the year. Much of the interest in the bill lies in its recognition of electronic crimes.

The Crimes Amendment Bill (number six) may not reach the justice and law reform select committee before parliament rises for the year.

The bill aims to fill in the holes in New Zealand law which has allowed at least one convicted fraudster to walk free.

However, because of the lack of time between now and parliament rising for the general election the bill may not be enacted into law before 2000.

"The bill faces a second reading and then goes to the select committee," says the Minister of Justice's press secretary, Bryan Smith.

"It's hard to know whether it will make it to select committee or not to be honest. The order paper is very full and there are no guarantees."

The select committee receives public submissions and then has up to six months to debate the bill. Smith says he expects a large amount of interest in the bill because of the electronic crimes element — there are a number of other amendments in the bill including changes to burglary, arson and intentional damage among others.

As reported in Computerworld in April ("Urgent Cyber-Law report languishes on government shelf") the case of "R v Wilkinson" has shown up current legislation's inability to cope with the electronic world.

In Wilkinson the defendant had dishonestly obtained money from a financial institution by claiming to own various vehicles and machinery that could be used as collateral. Although he was found guilty of "obtaining by false pretences", the Court of Appeal ruled in his favour because the bank had electronically transferred the money to Wilkinson's account instead of paying him by cheque or in cash.

"The decision in Wilkinson … points to a yawning gap in the criminal law which in the view of the court requires attention; in our view the need for attention is urgent," says a Law Commission report into Wilkinson. It called for an urgent review of the legislation to cover such intangible crimes as electronic theft.

The three new computer crimes are: dishonest use of a computer; attempting to dishonestly use a computer and intentional or reckless serious damage to a computer, each carrying a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment. Minister of Justice Tony Ryall has tried to adopt a "technology neutral" stance rather than running the risk of being overtaken by technology as it changes.

"We don't want to be constantly introducing laws every time the technology changes. It's much more efficient to define the crime not the technology. That way the technology used is irrelevant," Ryall told Computerworld at a recent meeting in Auckland.

The amendment will redefine the term "property" to include non-corporeal items like bank accounts as well as extending the definition of "document" to include electronic copies.

Further changes to legislation are expected, including "hacking or cracking into a system", however this change has been delayed because of difficulties in reaching a working definition of these terms.

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