Reno: Arm cybercops

The Internet has complicated the lives of law enforcement officials, permitting

anonymous criminals to infiltrate international borders to attack and then

vanish into cyberspace.

Attorney General Janet Reno wants to strike back with new electronic

capabilities, greater assistance from the Internet industry and more cooperation

among local, national and international police. Reno said police need new

capabilities, such as real-time tracking of Internet users and the ability

to locate wireless phones and identify anonymous e-mailers.

In a lengthy report released Thursday, Reno said "the Internet provides

a vast, inexpensive and potentially anonymous way" for criminals to commit

fraud, distribute child pornography, sell guns and drugs, and steal computer

software or other creative material.

She portrayed police agencies as generally overwhelmed, undertrained

and ill-equipped to handle Internet crime. Reno, who headed a six-month

effort by the President's Working Group on Unlawful Conduct on the Internet,

stopped short of making many specific requests for new law enforcement powers.

But she warned the Internet industry that "consumer confidence in the

security of e-commerce and the Internet may be damaged" if electronic crime

cannot be controlled. In that respect, her report was characteristic of

the Clinton administration's hope that technology industries will regulate

themselves, said David Sobel, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information

Center.

Much of what Reno wants could be provided to law enforcement by Internet

service providers, phone companies, and software and hardware makers, Sobel

said. ISPs could keep better track of traffic on their systems and turn

records over to police to help with investigations. Software and hardware

makers could embed identification numbers in their products — as some already

have — to make it possible to track "anonymous" messages. Reno said the

federal government is already working with telecommunications companies

to address such problems in "a global telephony environment."

Internet companies may be quite willing to assist law enforcement agencies

when it comes to tracking, tagging and identifying those online, Sobel said.

After all, many of the companies have worked hard to compile information

on what people buy, view and visit while online, often enraging their customers

in the process.

Reno acknowledged that efforts to crack down on Internet crime inevitably

will clash with privacy rights. While society has a strong interests in

investigating and prosecuting crime, it also has strong interests in free

speech, protecting privacy, providing broad access to public information

and supporting legitimate commerce, she said.Reno did not suggest how both

interests might be served, except to say that regulations "should be carefully

tailored" to avoid stifling the Internet's growth or its use for open communication.

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