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Cracking Down on International Cybercrime

Where would we be without the World Wide Web? The invaluable information highway is unfortunately being exploited by a new breed of criminals. But, not for very much longer.

The Council of Europe has drafted a treaty that will make it easier to catch cyber-fraudstersImage: AP

International laws against internet related crime have been in the cyber ether for some time but to no avail. The September 11 terror attacks have acted as a catalyst. Speeding up the process is an international cybercrime treaty signed in Budapest, Hungary, that cracks down on a wide range of computer-related crimes.

The treaty is an initiative of the Council of Europe and is endorsed by 30 countries, including four non-European countries: South Africa, Japan, Canada and the US. Its primary goal is to "foster international co-operation".

It calls for all signatories to put extensive local legislation and technical infrastructure in place. This is required to track and subsequently prosecute computer-centric criminal activity.

''Cybercrime and cyber-terrorism represent a serious challenge to society as a whole and this Convention provides the first co-ordinated and international response to this challenge," said Hans Christian Krüger, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe is "conscious of the profound changes brought about by the digitalisation, convergence and continuing globalisation of computer networks" and identifies several burgeoning areas of computer-related crime.

The treaty itself has a threefold aim: to lay down common definitions of certain criminal offences relating to the use of the new technologies and to define methods for criminal investigations and prosecution. It also defines methods for international communication.

According to the Council of Europe, the criminal offences concerned are:

  • those committed against the confidentiality, integrity and availability of computer data or systems (such as the spreading of viruses)
  • computer-related offences (such as virtual fraud and forgery)
  • content-related offences (such as the possession and intentional distribution of child pornography)
  • offences related to infringements of intellectual property and related rights

Other sections within the document make it possible for the signatories to freely exchange evidence when investigating computer-related crimes. Evidence refers to traffic data that shows the path along which crime-related data might have been transmitted. Service providers like AOL and T-Online may be obliged to disclose full subscriber details, including physical address and payment information in future.

However, Guy De Vel, Director General of Legal Affairs at the Council of Europe, pointed out that this was not going to be an invasion of the average consumer's privacy. "The text covers only specific criminal investigations, and certainly does not lend itself to the setting up of an Orwellian-style general electronic surveillance system" he said.

De Vel concluded by saying that the treaty had been drawn up with care so as to strike "a precious balance between the requirements of criminal investigations and respect for individual rights".

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