Computer Crime Research Center

DOJ official urges simpler laws, resources to fight cybercrime

A top U.S. Department of Justice official told a congressional subcommittee yesterday that U.S. law enforcers need more resources to combat cybercrime and better laws to simplify the tracing of suspects over the Internet.

Michael Chertoff, a newly confirmed assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, also told the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime that tougher penalties that "are commensurate with the harm caused" are needed to adequately reflect the impact of crimes. For example, crimes such as disseminating an e-mail virus can cause "millions, if not billions," of dollars in damages to government and businesses, he said.

Chertoff also said more money is needed. "The department can work effectively to combat cybercrime only if we have adequate resources to hire, equip and train investigators," he said.

But the subcommittee was also cautioned by Alan Davidson, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based privacy rights group, to safeguard and improve privacy rights.

"Cybercrime is a serious problem, and it demands a real but limited response from government," said Davidson, who urged the subcommittee to strengthen outdated privacy laws. "We need to do that in order to restore the shift in balance between government surveillance and our personal privacy, in order to build user trust and confidence in what is becoming an economically vital medium."

The Subcommittee on Crime will hold its third and final hearing on Internet crime issues tomorrow, when it hears from private-sector officials. Expected to testify are Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va.; Robert Chestnut, a vice president at eBay Inc. in San Jose; and Robert Kruger, vice president for enforcement at the Business Software Alliance in Washington.

The hearings are expected to serve as a springboard for new crime legislation. The Justice Department, for instance, said Chertoff is seeking changes in the procedural regulations that clarify laws used to trace telephone calls so that they can also apply to e-mail and telephony. Included in that legislation is a bill that would give investigators the legal equivalent of "one-stop shopping" by allowing one judge to sign an order for a trace that extends over many jurisdictions.

Cybercrime efforts also hinge on private-sector cooperation. And in that regard, James Savage, a special agent at the U.S. Secret Service's financial crimes division, cited the New York Electronic Crimes Task Force as a national model for successful law enforcement. The task force is made up of more than 100 private-sector companies representing banking, finance and telecommunications. Since it was established in 1995, Savage said, task-force actions have led to electronic crimes charges against more than 800 individuals.

"The notion of these companies, these competitors sitting at the same table sharing information, knowledge and resources with both each other and law enforcement, is why we believe we have found a truly unique, innovative and effective forum for combating cybercrime," said Savage.


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