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MPs demand big stick for hackers

Two years' hard time, to be exact

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A committee of MPs and peers today produced recommendations on updating Britain’s aging computer crime laws. The All Party Internet Group (APIG) is advocating stiffer sentencing for computer criminals and laws to make denial of service attacks - a grey area within existing laws - a specific offence.

MPs would like to see the maximum sentence for hacking offences – crimes under Section One of the Computer Misuse Act (CMA) 1990 – increased from six months to two years. Increasing the maximum sentence will make it possible to seek the extradition of foreign suspects to the UK.

APIG also called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to produce a clear policy about how private prosecutions could be brought under the CMA. Clearer guidelines would make it easier for private companies to tackle cases that the police or Crown Prosecution Service do not regard as a priority.

The recommendations follow hearings by APIG into the Computer Misuse Act in April which took evidence from police, lawyers, ISPs and security consultants. Evidence to the inquiry showed a lack of understanding about the CMA, according to APIG. MPs want the Home Office to step up efforts to explain the Act through its website. APIG also called on the government to improve information on cybercrime by use of statistical sampling. A lack of concrete data about cybercrime is perceived as a key reason why the problem is given less attention than it merits. Nick Ray, chief executive of intrusion prevention firm PrevX, which sponsored the report, said that he hoped the report would push the issue of cybercrime higher up the political agenda.

Home Office Minister Caroline Flint welcomed the report. “The Home Office has announced its intention to review the CMA and bring forward amendments to the Act, including making changes to the Section One penalty threshold, and introducing greater clarity regarding the criminalisation of denial of service attacks. We shall also give full consideration to all the report recommendations which relate to the Home Office and will report back,” she said.

Although APIG wants to persuade the Home Office to announce a cybercrime bill in the Queen's Speech in November, MPs privately reckon its more likely changes to Britain’s existing computer crime laws will come as part of a wider criminal justice act or through a private members bill. The likelihood of a general election next summer means revisions to Britain’s existing cybercrime laws may have to wait some time. ®

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