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Tom Harris MP presented a bill to Parliament that would amend the UK's 15-year-old cybercrime law to confirm that denial of service attacks are illegal. A similar bill was pitched in March but was defeated by the timetable for the general election.

The Labour MP for Glasgow South called for amendments to the Computer Misuse Act of 1990 in his Ten Minute Rule Bill – a type of Private Member's Bill that rarely becomes law, but serves to raise Parliamentary awareness of a need for legal reform.

Tom Harris’s Computer Misuse Act 1990 (Amendment) Bill picks up on the key recommendations of an inquiry into the original Act by the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group, known as APIG, published in June 2004. The Group exists to provide a discussion forum between new media industries and parliamentarians.

The report led to APIG Chairman Derek Wyatt MP’s own Ten Minute Rule Bill of April 2005, although this was not the first attempt to change the Act: in 2002, the Earl of Northesk introduced his own Ten Minute Rule Bill – but like most such bills, it died.

Like Mr Wyatt's recent proposal, Mr Harris's Bill amends section three of the Computer Misuse Act in order to explicitly criminalise all means of interference with a computer system, in particular creating a specific offence for denial of service (DoS) attacks. The Bill also increases the tariff for hacking offences (dealt with in section one of the Act) from six months to two years, and from five to ten years for further related offences.

Wyatt said:

“We welcome this Bill particularly as it reflects the work of the All Party Group over the last two years and especially my own Ten Minute Rule Bill from earlier this year. We hope that the Government adopts the measures proposed in the Bill as a matter of urgency, reflecting the significant threat that cybercrime poses to the UK.”

In his speech to the House of Commons, Harris highlighted the inconsistency between the severe financial consequences of hacking attacks that can cause losses of millions of pounds and the sentences currently possible to punish such attacks.

He gave some examples of DoS attacks, including one that had been launched by one of his own constituents, a gun enthusiast, who bombarded a gun control website with so many emails that its server crashed. The website contacted Harris to complain.

Harris said:

"This is an issue that up until now hasn't been taken seriously enough. So much of the UK economy depends on the internet, and so many services are vulnerable if we allow these attackers to go unpunished. It's time we faced up to this new threat."

Wyatt's bill ran out of Parliamentary time. It would otherwise have been read a second time. Nobody opposed Mr Harris's bill and it is scheduled for a second reading on 2nd December 2005.

Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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