"LawNet'' brings states together to fight cybercrime

Attorney General Janet Reno on Monday proposed a cooperative network that would enable law enforcement agencies across the country to share information on electronic crimes.

The proposal, delivered at a recent meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, calls on state attorneys general to set up an around-the-clock network of computer crime agents within every state, enabling authorities who uncover a crime in one state to work quickly with counterparts in other states to track down cybercriminals.

Reno's proposal followed news reports that a hacker had stolen 300,000 credit card numbers via the World Wide Web site of music retailer CD Universe and had posted some of the numbers on the Web.

"While the Internet and other information technologies are bringing enormous benefits to society, they also provide new opportunities for criminal behavior," Reno said. "The Internet changes everything — and it's changing law enforcement in dramatic ways."

Bubby Moser, executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association, said he supports Reno's proposal for a cooperative network on cybercrimes — dubbed "LawNet" by Reno. "All this [communication] has to be in place," Moser said. "And [Reno] is right on top of it."

Moser said plans for a network should encompass all levels of law enforcement — from local and tribal governments to federal and foreign law enforcement organizations. An international scope to sharing cybercrime information already is emerging, with the Justice Department recently setting up an information-sharing network on cybercrime with G-8 nations.

Reno's proposal also includes developing a secure online clearinghouse of information that federal, state and local law enforcement agents could access to share information on pending cases, potential targets of computer crime and contact personnel for crimes on the Internet. Moreover, the proposal suggests the creation of regional computer forensics labs that would enable state and local law enforcement agencies to pool resources to investigate information crimes. It also calls on states to work on jurisdictional issues when cybercrimes involve more than one state.

"I think this [proposal] is a good idea. See, one of the problems has been venue issues," said Michael Anderson, president of Gresham, Ore.-based New Technologies Inc., a computer forensics firm that works with state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Anderson said figuring out which law enforcement agency has jurisdiction proves a challenge when a cybercriminal is in one state and the victim is in another. "The first thing to do is to get communications going between the different states. The jurisdictional issues will follow," he said.

Communicating quickly is important in cybercases because electronic evidence can disappear fast as data on high-traffic Internet servers get replaced by fresh data. "What happens in these things is you have to move very quickly before the evidence goes away," Anderson said.

Reno has urged state attorneys general to develop a framework for LawNet by March.

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