"Cybercrime" and human rights

Source: Gender IT
Appart from the opportunities that ICTs have created, they can also exacerbate existing structures of inequality by enabling cyber criminals to access and misuse private information to target vulnerable groups. In this article Weiting Xu casts a gendered lens on cybercrime laws in India. September 2008. [see more]
Born as part of an intelligence military system, Internet has become an essential means of communication and information with great democratic potential as an organizational tool for social movements challenging the domination of political and economic power.

The September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon led many countries to promote measures for the surveillance of individuals and organizations as part of the "war on terrorism". In fact, it also provided a perfect excuse to introduce measures that previously would have met more resistance from those concerned about how these new measures might erode essential civil liberties.

Various attempts have been made to adopt a global definition of "cyber crime" but the boundaries of this term remain unclear. While there might be consensus in identifying child pornography as "cybercrime", "organized crime" or "terrorist act" are defined differently in several national legislations. As a consequence, in some countries any protest group could easily be considered a major threat and thus go under official investigation.

Efforts to reach an international legal solution have resulted in the introduction of proposals to increase surveillance on global communications, and Internet users' activities are increasingly being monitored under the pretext of preventing computer intruders from attacking systems and to stopping offences such as "intellectual property violations".

For several years the Council of Europe (COE) and the G-8 have assumed a frontline position in the efforts to build "cybercrime" legal frameworks, while the United States has been playing a key role in developing and promoting these initiatives. In 2001, these discussions, which had largely taken place behind closed doors, finally gave birth to the "Council of Europe Cyber Crime Convention". This convention requires that states co-operate in the investigation of cyber crime by allowing data to be shared between them - even if the crime being investigated in one state is not a crime in the state from where information is requested.

Minor acts of civil disobedience in some countries might carry draconian penalties in others and fighting for justice and human rights are themselves considered criminal acts in many parts of the world. The implications of a such a convention for social movements, NGOs and human rights organisations can, therefore, be enormous.

A recent well known case illustrates the true danger of Internet surveillance for human rights: on October 7th 2004 the servers of the Independent Media Community -known as Indymedia- were seized by the FBI. While the reasons for this act remain still unveiled, Rackspace, the UK-based Indymedia host server, claims that it acted "in compliance with a court order pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT)". In other words, one country requested handing over of the servers under the jurisdiction of another country on the grounds of a treaty of international cooperation, obscuring accountability and due process. This episode clearly shows how international legislation can easily be used to undermine freedom of expression.

The Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention has been promoted as a possible global governance model for dealing with trans-border cybercrime. Considering the threats that such a global legal regime would impose on basic human rights it should be seriously considered.
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UPDATES
Tuesday, September 30 2008
Unequal protection, cyber crime and the internet in India
(Source: Gender IT)
Monday, June 12 2006
Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents
(Source: Reporters Withouth Borders)
Wednesday, May 31 2006
Documenting Internet content filtering worldwide
(Source: OpenNet)
more on this issue

Background

Cyber crime and anti-terrorism legislation (APC)

Cyber Crime (Privacy international)

Electronic communications surveillance (Echelon Watch)

International issues : cybercrime (Center for democracy & technology)

International convention: civil society perspective

The Birth and Rise of International Conventions on Cybercrime (Privacy International)

Treaty Watch

Internet under surveillance (Reporters without borders)

Electronic privacy information center (EPIC)

Privacy and human rights 2004 (Privacy International)

Case study: Indymedia’s servers seized

Indymedia solidarity statement (Indymedia)

FBI seizes Indymedia servers in the UK (Indymedia)

Responses to the seizure of indymedia harddrives (Indymedia UK)

APC condemns “arbitrary” seizure of Indymedia web servers by US and European law enforcers (Choike)

The issue of cybercrime in the WSIS process

Communication rights: WSIS and beyond (CRIS)

European Cyber Crime Convention

Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention (Council of Europe)

Internet and human rights

Unequal protection, cyber crime and the internet in India (Gender IT)

Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents (Reporters Withouth Borders)

Documenting Internet content filtering worldwide (OpenNet)

Stocktaking on efforts to combat racism on the Internet (UN Commision on Human Rights)

Combating racism on the Internet while upholding international human rights standards

An advocacy handbook for the non governmental organisations (Cyber-rights and cyber-liberties)

Global Internet Liberty Campaign’s letter to the COE (Global Internet Liberty Campaign)

Internet and civil liberties (CRIS)

Communications intercepted

Analysis of Zimbabwe's Interception of Communication Bill


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