In a letter to the Senate on Monday, Bush called the Council of Europe's controversial treaty "an effective tool in the global effort to combat computer-related crime" and "the only multilateral treaty to address the problems of computer-related crime and electronic evidence gathering."
Even though the United States is a nonvoting member of the Council of Europe, it has pressed hard for the cybercrime treaty as a way to establish international criminal standards related to copyright infringement, online fraud, child pornography and network intrusions. The U.S. Department of Justice says the treaty will eliminate "procedural and jurisdictional obstacles that can delay or endanger international investigations."
Civil libertarians have objected to the treaty ever since it became public in early 2000, arguing that it would endanger privacy rights and grant too much power to government investigators. So have industry groups such as Americans for Computer Privacy and the Internet Alliance. They raised concerns that the treaty could limit anonymity or impose vague record-keeping requirements on U.S. Internet providers.
"It's a treaty that goes way beyond combating cybercrime," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's technology and liberty program. "It would require nations that participate in the treaty to adopt all sorts of intrusive surveillance measures and cooperate with other nations, even when the act that's being investigated is not a crime in their home country."
So far, according to the Council of Europe, only three countries--Albania, Croatia and Estonia--have ratified the treaty. If the Senate approves it, the Bush administration said it believes that because U.S. law already abides by provisions in the treaty, no further legal changes would be necessary.
The treaty requires each participating nation to ban the distribution of software that is designed for the "purpose of committing" certain computer crimes, requires Internet providers to ensure "expeditious preservation of traffic data" upon request, and permits real-time wiretapping of Internet service providers. It also covers extradition for computer crimes and permits police to request that their counterparts in other countries cooperate in conducting electronic surveillance.
Bush said the treaty will "help deny 'safe havens' to criminals, including terrorists, who can cause damage to U.S. interests from abroad, using computer systems."
An addition to the Council of Europe's cybercrime treaty would ban "hate speech" from the Internet, a common prohibition in European nations that violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. The Justice Department said last year that it does not support the optional addition but still endorses the underlying treaty.
The addition covers "distributing, or otherwise making available, racist and xenophobic material to the public through a computer system." This is defined as "any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion."
A mysterious second addition to the treaty discussed soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks would have covered "how to identify, how to filter, and how to trace communications between terrorists." At the time, the Council of Europe confirmed that the proposal existed but it did not become part of the final treaty.