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Constitutional protections of the press are getting in the way of cyber-crime prosecutions and may have to be reconsidered, a White House committee chaired by US Attorney General Janet Reno believes. "With the advent of the Internet and widespread computer use, almost any computer can be used to 'publish' material. As a result, the [Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (PPA)] may now apply to almost any search of any computer," the committee's report laments. The act in question protects the freedom of American journalists, scholars and writers to publish freely by prohibiting all law enforcement agencies from searching for or seizing "any work product materials" or any related "documentary materials....possessed by a person....with a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication," [42 U.S.C. §2000aa]. Under those circumstances, the Feds would be forced to find some gizmo or technique to copy only those portions of a suspect journalist's hard disk which might pertain to a crime, and do it without interrupting the work in progress; or, failing that, rely on the suspect himself to turn over the relevant files. It's a formidable technical challenge, as the Feds must not seize, or even examine, data meant for publication and its supporting, documentary information such as notes, transcripts and related research materials. The Reno Department of Justice (DoJ) apparently finds this an intolerable burden, especially while the precious life of an innocent child kidnapped by rogue chemistry professors could hang in the balance. "Because computers now commonly contain enormous data storage devices, wrongdoers can use them to store material for publication that the PPA protects while simultaneously storing child pornography, stolen classified documents, or other contraband or evidence of crime," the report warns. We may joke about rogue professors, but we're only covering up the chill we feel in contemplating the way Internet superstition and Reno's relentless child-protective hype might give the Feds the excuse they've been waiting for to do an end-run around the PPA. It appears that this is exactly what Reno has in mind. "Features of the Internet that make it different from prior technologies may justify the need for changes in laws and procedures that govern the detection and investigation of computer crimes," the committee notes ominously. We note that the current text offers no factual or even statistical basis for any of its claims, but disseminates only Reno's standard blend of inuendo and gross generalisation to exploit the fears of a technologically innocent populace to gain greater powers of on-line intervention. The committee's report, "The Electronic Frontier: The Challenge of Unlawful Conduct Involving the Use of the Internet" is due to be released in final form this week. A draft copy obtained by Wired News is available on line here. It's a disturbing read. ® Related Stories Reno, FBI feast on bad network security Janet Reno proposes on-line police squad Congress clarifies spy warrant legislation Janet Reno dismisses central cyber-security agency Law enforcers the 'absolute worst people' for Net security - former Fed Crypto must be controlled -- FBI director How the FBI can r00t your hard drive FBI seeks to apply RICO laws to hackers FBI phone-snoop regs challenged by Net privacy groups US anti-smut bill may go too far Clinton's Big Plan against cyberterror US crypto plan aims to bug PCs

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