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FBI seeks to apply RICO laws to hackers

Penalties include forfeiture of property, and serious time inside

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FBI Director Louis Freeh recommends invoking Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes in prosecuting some cyber crimes. "This is an initiative [the FBI is] exploring," Freeh explained during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Wednesday. "Some activity which goes beyond a single incident of fraud or hacking...gets into the realm of enterprise criminal activity," he noted. Repeated network intrusions could potentially expose American hackers to racketeering statutes which carry far more severe penalties than those allowed under the current Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which often obstructs prosecution of malicious hacks resulting in less than US $5000 in damage to remote systems. If a malicious hacker were to carry out repeated attacks -- and "repeated" might posibly include the DDoS attacks which captured headlines last week -- RICO could potentially be invoked even if the hacks failed to achieve the minimum damage standards of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. RICO convictions enable the Feds to appropriate property believed to derive from criminal activity. Virtually anything may be included, as the burden of proof that a given article was purchased with money obtained by legitimate means rests with the convict. The statutes also enable the Feds to seize property pursuant to a conviction, leaving an exonerated suspect with the burden of recovering his or her property from various federal agencies notorious for their slow response. Federal prosecutors have used RICO to attack drugs traffickers -- and with limited results, we might add, owing to the spectacular hauls such criminals typically enjoy. Many consider the risk worth taking. "We are working on putting together a package, and I think you can anticipate that," US Attorney General Janet Reno added. The Register is unsure what to make of this development. The proposed provision would not discourage cyber-criminals capable of scoring hauls comparable to those enjoyed by heavy-duty drugs traffickers; and as for hackers, we note that all of those known to The Register are so strapped financially that seizing their property would be tantamount to squeezing blood from a stone. ®

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