ACLU Calls White House Report on Internet Crime Law Enforcement "Wish List"

March 9, 2000 12:00 am

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ACLU Calls White House Report on Internet Crime Law Enforcement “Wish List”


WASHINGTON– A White House report on blocking Internet crime contains dangerous recommendations that would strip away basic privacy, free speech and free press protections, the American Civil Liberties Union warned today.

The report, scheduled to be made public this morning at Attorney General Janet Reno’s weekly press briefing, “raises a number of civil liberties concerns,” the ACLU said in a letter, including suggestions for stripping away anonymity online, lowering the privacy threshold for telephone as well as online communications, and threatening laws protecting free speech rights of anyone using a computer, including news reporters.

“The Attorney General and Congress should view this report for what it is — a law enforcement wish list,” said Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the national ACLU and an author of the letter. “If our government truly wants to combat cybercrime, then it should look to build up our defenses through more secure networks and encryption rather than stripping away rights.”

Entitled “The Electronic Frontier: the Challenge of Unlawful Conduct Involving the Use of the Internet,” the report was prepared by the President’s Working Group on Unlawful Conduct On the Internet, a group that includes FBI Director Louis Freeh, Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Commerce Secretary William Daley, and representatives from the military, DEA, and Secret Service.

Yet despite the report’s sweeping recommendations for dealing with cybercrime, the ACLU said, nowhere does it document the extent or threat of such crime or explain why the threat is so serious as to warrant dramatically expanded police powers.

Gregory T. Nojeim, a Legislative Counsel with the ACLU’s Washington National Office, said that some legal protections may indeed be outdated, but that the law needs to catch up with, not dismantle, our privacy protections. He particularly took issue with the report’s reference to privacy and anonymity as a “thorny issue.”

“Anonymity on the Internet is not a ‘thorny issue,’ it is a constitutional right,” Nojeim said. “Law enforcement and national security agencies want to outlaw the digital equivalent of pen names.”

The ACLU letter, sent yesterday to Reno, was signed by Steinhardt, Nojeim and Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office.

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