ACLU Says Cybercrime Treaty Warrants Extensive Examination; Could Import Un-American Laws to the U.S.

June 17, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered a key international cybercrime accord, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to hold further hearings to consider the ramifications of what it called a misguided and potentially dangerous treaty.

“This cybercrime treaty is a complex issue that demands significant review and consideration,” said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “If ratified, it could force us to enforce laws that violate what we stand for as a nation, laws such as those that guarantee our right to free speech and free elections.”

The treaty, known formally as the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention, was signed more than two and half years ago, and if the Senate were to ratify, the U.S. would become the first major industrial nation to formally endorse it. The White House allowed two years to lapse before it was sent to the Senate. The ACLU said that the complex nature of the treaty warrants extensive further review by the Committee.

The treaty would require signatories to have specific criminal laws in place and demands “mutual legal assistance” – in other words, a foreign country that is also a signatory to the treaty can demand that the United States assist it in investigating and prosecuting someone in this country.

This provision does not require that the activity in question be a crime in both nations. If ratified, the United States could be required to assist countries whose substantive laws and procedures do not comport with American understandings of justice.

Even laws in other countries respectful of civil rights could pose problems if they were enforced in America. For example, France and Germany have laws prohibiting discussion of Nazi philosophy, activities that are protected here under the First Amendment. Under the treaty, these countries could demand assistance from the United States to investigate and prosecute individuals for activities that are constitutionally protected in this country.

“The Senate needs to carefully deliberate before it allows U.S. law enforcement to enforce and investigate laws not agreed to by the people’s representatives in Congress,” Johnson said.

The ACLU’s letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee is online at:
/node/21100

The ACLU’s Memo on the Cybercrime Treaty is available at:
/node/21099

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