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US cybercrime push ‘imperils personal security’ of Americans

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White House plans to ratify a Council of Europe Cybercrime treaty will be a disaster for the privacy and security of Americans, Privacy International (PI), the human rights watchdog, claims.

President Bush this week urged Senators to back the adoption of the mutual assistance Treaty into US law. The Treaty, designed to streamline cooperation between signatory countries, will significant expand the power of investigators to access data and prosecute offences ranging from copyright infringement to "hate speech".

PI warns that if the Senate ratifies the Treaty, "dozens of countries will have 'on demand' access to the personal information and communications records of any American they may wish to investigate". This data - including full email logs, phone records and mobile phone location data together with account and financial records - could be "cherry picked" by investigating authorities in countries that ratify the treaty.

Providing the US signs up to the Treaty, the personal details of millions of US citizens will be available "on demand" to Balkan and former communist countries, PI says.

Safeguards? What safeguards?

PI warns that the "low standard of evidence or authentication demanded for these transfers of personal information creates exceptional dangers to many ethnic and minority groups in the US".

The conditions for sharing this information mean that intelligence could concern offences which are criminal in the requesting country, but not in the US. Grounds for refusing to share data are limited.

The ratification of the Treaty would make data regarding US citizens available to governments around the world with little oversight or control, according to PI. It warns the treaty will "open the floodgates for overseas government and private bodies" looking for sensitive personal information.

Only very basic information about the purposes of the data would be given to US officials.

Civil liberties organisations have opposed the treaty from the beginning.

In an open letter two years ago, critics argued: "the convention continues to be a document that threatens the rights of the individual while extending the powers of police authorities, creates a low-barrier protection of rights uniformly across borders, and ignores highly-regarded data protection principles".

Simon Davies, PI director, said the Treaty "imperils the constitutional and judicial protections that Americans enjoy. Ratification will compromise every safeguard in US law. The Treaty is ill considered, regressive and unnecessary and should be rejected by the Senate." ®

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