Senate ratifies Europe cybercrime convention

Thanks to a late-night vote in the Senate Thursday night, the U.S. can now spy on your Internet activity at the request of a foreign government — even if you are only doing things completely legal.

Late Thursday night the Senate ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, a treaty which requires its signatories to pass laws against breaking into computer systems, child pornography, Internet fraud, computer viruses, denial of service attacks and related crimes.

“While balancing civil liberty and privacy concerns, this treaty encourages the sharing of critical electronic evidence among foreign countries so that law enforcement can more effectively investigate and combat these crimes,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. . . .

“This treaty provides important tools in the battles against terrorism, attacks on computer networks, and the sexual exploitation of children over the Internet, by strengthening U.S. cooperation with foreign countries in obtaining electronic evidence,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said. “The Convention is in full accord with all U.S. constitutional protections, such as free speech and other civil liberties, and will require no change to U.S. laws.” — Associated Press

Perhaps Frist spoke too soon, or failed to read the treaty. And I have no idea what Gonzales is smoking, but I bet it isn’t legal.

Finalized in 2001 and only signed late last year, the treaty also gives governments very wide latitude in requesting information from each other in the course of an investigation, and does not provide dual criminality provisions for many of the information requests which could be made.

Dual criminality requires that for one government to assist another with an investigation, the act being investigated must be a crime in both countries.

The treaty requires the U.S. to turn over data stored by Internet Service Providers, and provide real-time interception of your Internet traffic, at the request of a foreign government, whether the offense the foreign government is investigating is a crime in the U.S. or not.

“That means that countries that have laws limiting free speech on the Net could oblige the F.B.I. to uncover the identities of anonymous U.S. critics, or monitor their communications on behalf of foreign governments,” wrote Electronic Frontier Foundation activist coordinator Danny O’Brien. “American ISPs would be obliged to obey other jurisdictions’ requests to log their users’ behavior without due process, or compensation.”

“And it applies not just to ‘cyber’ crimes but to digital evidence of any crime, so foreign governments now may begin using U.S. law enforcement to help them gather evidence in all kinds of cases,” wrote Cato Institute Director of Information Policy Studies Jim Harper.

Even in the U.S., it seems, you must actively protect your privacy if you intend to keep it. Otherwise, before you know it, you could wind up in a secret prison in Poland or Romania or somewhere else, accused of a crime in a foreign country you’ve never even heard of, that isn’t at all illegal here, with the U.S. helping put you there.

One thought on “Senate ratifies Europe cybercrime convention

  • August 8, 2006 at 5:39 am

    A truly creepy development. The only comfort being that secret prisons in Poland have huge neon signs saying “Secret Prison”. So your international attorney can find you. Romania, alas, is another story–

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