US Attorney General Janet Reno released a much anticipated report yesterday which urges the US government to improve online traceability and promote international co-operation to identify internet users.
The move follows requests by top US law enforcement officials that police be given more powers to fight net-related crime. Officials are increasingly concerned by the anonymity the web affords so-called cybercriminals.
The report, scheduled to go live on the US Department of Justice's website tomorrow, comes from the Working Group on Unlawful Conduct on the Internet - a group formed last August by US President Bill Clinton to consider new laws and initiatives for fighting 'cybercrime'.
Reno chaired the group, whose members include FBI Director Louis Freeh, US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Commerce Secretary William Daley and officials from the US military and the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
The report says existing legislation has to be changed because of "the need for real-time tracing of internet communications across traditional jurisdictional boundaries, both domestically and internationally [and] the need to track down sophisticated users who commit unlawful acts on the internet while hiding their identities".
But some privacy advocates have expressed concern that any changes to legislation could result in civil liberties' violations.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter to Reno yesterday criticising the report and urging her to "reject a number of the report's conclusions and to clarify others".
The group is particularly concerned that the report called anonymity on the internet a "thorny issue" for law enforcement.
"Anonymity on the internet is not a thorny issue - it is a constitutional right. The US Supreme Court held that the Constitution grants citizens the right to speak anonymously," said the ACLU.
"An end to internet anonymity would chill free expression in cyberspace and strip away one of the key structural privacy protections enjoyed by internet users."
The ACLU also questioned the need for change. "The report contains virtually no statistics on the extent of computer-related crime, or whether such activity poses a truly significant threat to our nation," it said.
"Instead, the report merely mentions several anecdotes on how a few individuals have used the computers to commit crimes. Such statistics should be disclosed before any statutory changes are even considered."
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