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Pre-Internet legislation inadequate

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UK computer crime law needs a root and branch reform to bring it into the Internet age.

MPs holding a public inquiry to see if Britain’s key computer crime law - the Computer Misuse Act 1990 - were told the law had served us well but now needed to be updated. Industry representatives appearing before an All Party Parliamentary Internet Group (APIG) hearing on subject yesterday were split on whether significant amendments to existing laws or fresh legislation on computer crime was needed.

APIG hopes its inquiry will put pressure on the Home Office to introduce a new cybercrime bill in the next six months. According to the Home Office, there were just 14 convictions under the CMA in 2002, the last year for which statistics were available.

Representatives from BT and the banking industry calls for amendments in the law to specifically outlaw DDoS attacks. The UK courts have dealt with cases of DDoS attacks but this remains a legal grey area. Experts from the British Computer Society and others told MPs that more fundamental changes were needed to a computer crime law drafted years before the widespread adoption of the Internet.

Several witnesses said the police were under-resourced for tackling computer crime law while others complained about difficulties in getting help from their ISPs when attacks occur. Experiences in this department were mixed.

Edward Andrewes, committee member at the Association of Remote Gaming Operators, said that since January the gambling industry had lost "millions of pounds" through DDoS attacks against online gambling websites. "We know who they are but there have been no prosecutions. We don't know why."

"The ISP industry provides a minimum cost product and it's not as secure as it should be," he added.

Colin Whittaker, head of security at banking orgainsation APACS, defended ISPs by saying it had a "good response" from them in tracking phishing scams. "We should understand they have a difficulty getting information from overseas ISPs," he said.

Some ISPs already use mechanisms outside the Computer Misuse Act (CMA) to deal with computer crime.

Tom Mullen, manager of detective operations at BT, said it often preferred to use section the Telecoms Act rather than the CMA in dealing with hackers. "We use S42 of the Telecoms Act instead of the CMA because it is easier. Police come around and offenders get a caution and lose kit. It's a good deterrent. Losses to most computer crimes are not high so it doesn't justify police resource to prosecute under the CMA," he said.

APIG intends to publish a report of its inquiry in June. ®

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