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U.S. Report on Controlling Crime on the Internet - Executive Summary

U.S. Report on Controlling Crime on the Internet - Executive Summary

Washington D.C. -- (WF), March 10, 2000. Advisory panel recommends three-part strategy for regulation (1400). Source: U.S. Department of State.

The presidentially-appointed Working Group on Unlawful Conduct on the Internet made recommendations March 9 on what should be done to prevent and prosecute illegal activity in cyberspace.

The panel, headed by Attorney General Janet Reno, found that while the Internet is beneficial to society, "its potential to serve as a powerful new medium for those who wish to commit unlawful acts has also grown."

The panel's report, "The Electronic Frontier: The Challenge of Unlawful Conduct Involving the Use of the Internet," recommends a three-part strategy for addressing illegal activity on the Internet:

  • The report recommends consistency between laws regulating online and offline conduct with consideration for other issues such as privacy and civil liberties.
  • The report urges recognition for the problems facing law enforcement and its need for special tools and capabilities.
  • The report advocates private sector leadership in the development of "cyberethics" to help protect and empower Internet users.

Existing laws are likely to apply to on-line misconduct, according to "The Electronic Frontier," but investigators face significant new challenges. The report emphasizes the need for law enforcement cooperation across traditional jurisdictional boundaries and for well-trained and equipped personnel to conduct investigations.

Following is the text of the Executive Summary of the report. The complete report is available (click here). (begin text)

The Electronic Frontier: The Challenge of Unlawful Conduct Involving the Use of Internet: A Report of the President's Working Group on Unlawful Conduct on the Internet, March 2000.

Executive Summary

It should come as no surprise that the Internet is rapidly transforming the way we communicate, educate, and buy and sell goods and services. As the Internet's potential to provide unparalleled benefits to society continues to expand, however, its potential to serve as a powerful new medium for those who wish to commit unlawful acts has also grown. Unlawful conduct involving the use of the Internet is just as intolerable as any other type of illegal activity. Ensuring the safety and security of those who use the Internet is thus a critical element of the Administration's overall policy regarding the Internet and electronic commerce, a policy that seeks to promote private sector leadership, technology-neutral laws and regulation, and an appreciation of the Internet as an important medium for commerce and communication both domestically and internationally. Indeed, the continued growth and maturation of this new medium depends on our taking a balanced approach that ensures that the Internet does not become a haven for unlawful activity.

For these reasons, the President and Vice President established an interagency Working Group on Unlawful Conduct on the Internet, chaired by the Attorney General, to provide an initial analysis of legal and policy issues surrounding the use of the Internet to commit unlawful acts. Specifically, the Working Group considered

  1. the extent to which existing federal laws are sufficient to address unlawful conduct involving the use of the Internet;
  2. the extent to which new tools, capabilities, or legal authorities may be needed for effective investigation and prosecution of such conduct; and
  3. the potential for using education and empowerment tools to minimize the risks from such conduct.

Consistent with the Administration's overall policy, the Working Group recommends a 3-part approach for addressing unlawful conduct on the Internet:

First, any regulation of unlawful conduct involving the use of the Internet should be analyzed through a policy framework that ensures that online conduct is treated in a manner consistent with the way offline conduct is treated, in a technology-neutral manner, and in a manner that takes account of other important societal interests, such as privacy and protection of civil liberties;

Second, law enforcement needs and challenges posed by the Internet should be recognized as significant, particularly in the areas of resources, training, and the need for new investigative tools and capabilities, coordination with and among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and coordination with and among our international counterparts; and

Third, there should be continued support for private sector leadership and the development of methods - such as "cyberethics" curricula, appropriate technological tools, and media and other outreach efforts - that educate and empower Internet users to prevent and minimize the risks of unlawful activity.

Prior technological advances - the automobile, the telegraph, and the telephone, for example - have brought dramatic improvements for society, but have also created new opportunities for wrongdoing. The same is true of the Internet, which provides unparalleled opportunities for socially beneficial endeavors - such as education, research, commerce, entertainment, and discourse on public affairs - in ways that we may not now even be able to imagine. By the same token, however, individuals who wish to use a computer as a tool to facilitate unlawful activity may find that the Internet provides a vast, inexpensive, and potentially anonymous way to commit unlawful acts, such as fraud, the sale or distribution of child pornography, the sale of guns or drugs or other regulated substances without regulatory protections, and the unlawful distribution of computer software or other creative material protected by intellectual property rights.

In its analysis of existing federal laws in these and other areas, the Working Group finds that existing substantive federal laws generally do not distinguish between unlawful conduct committed through the use of the Internet and the same conduct committed through the use of other, more traditional means of communication. For example, laws governing fraud - such as credit card fraud, identity theft, securities fraud, gambling, and unfair and deceptive trade acts or practices - apply with equal force to both online as well as offline conduct. To the extent these existing laws adequately address unlawful conduct in the offline world, they should, for the most part, adequately cover unlawful conduct on the Internet. There may be a few instances, however, where relevant federal laws need to be amended to better reflect the realities of new technologies, such as the Internet.

Despite the general adequacy of laws that define the substance of criminal and other offenses, the Working Group finds that the Internet presents new and significant investigatory challenges for law enforcement at all levels. These challenges include: the need for real-time tracing of Internet communications across traditional jurisdictional boundaries, both domestically and internationally; the need to track down sophisticated users who commit unlawful acts on the Internet while hiding their identities; the need for hand-in-glove coordination among various law enforcement agencies; and the need for trained and well-equipped personnel - at federal, state, local, and global levels - to gather evidence, investigate, and prosecute these cases. In some instances, federal procedural and evidentiary laws may need to be amended to better enable law enforcement to meet these challenges.

These needs and challenges are neither trivial nor theoretical. Law enforcement agencies today, for example, are faced with the need to evaluate and to determine the source, typically on very short notice, of anonymous e-mails that contain bomb threats against a given building or threats to cause serious bodily injury. Other scenarios raise similarly significant concerns: If a hacker uses the Internet to weave communications through computers in six different countries to break into an online business' records of customer credit card information, consumer confidence in the security of e-commerce and the Internet may be damaged if law enforcement agencies are unable to cooperate and coordinate rapidly with their counterparts in the other countries to find the perpetrator.

Finally, an essential component of the Working Group's strategy is continued support for private sector leadership and the development of methods - such as "cyberethics" curricula, appropriate technological tools, and media and other outreach efforts - that educate and empower Internet users so as to minimize the risks of unlawful activity. This Administration has already initiated numerous efforts to educate consumers, parents, teachers, and children about ways to ensure safe and enjoyable Internet experiences, and those efforts should continue. The private sector has also undertaken substantial self-regulatory efforts - such as voluntary codes of conduct and appropriate cooperation with law enforcement - that show responsible leadership in preventing and minimizing the risks of unlawful conduct on the Internet. Those efforts must also continue to grow. Working together, we can ensure that the Internet and its benefits will continue to grow and flourish in the years and decades to come.

(end text)

  • Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State Web site.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).