Reno: Arm cybercops
- By William Matthews
- Mar 12, 2000
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
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.