Sunday, August 13, 2006
Globalism Gone Mad: the "Cybercrime" Treaty
Congress Cuts Outs, Wrecks Cyberprivacy
By Bob Barr
Special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The most dangerous time of the year for America is right before a congressional recess, and it matters not whether the Republican Party or the Democratic Party is in charge.
Congress is now in its August recess, and at least the damage it can visit on the American people is on hold. Unfortunately, right before it took its latest break, the Senate adopted by voice vote a treaty that will stand as a tribute to Big Government and internationalism - the Cybercrime Treaty.
This treaty, drafted not by U.S. government lawyers possessed of at least a passing familiarity with our Bill of Rights, but by internationalists with the Council of Europe, had been awaiting Senate ratification since 2001. The Bush administration, long enamored of any instrument granting the federal government broader or expanded power to gather information on citizens, for years had been urging Republican Senate leaders - particularly Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) - to bring the document up for a vote.
Thanks largely to opposition by a broad coalition of conservative organizations and other groups focused on privacy issues, however, the treaty languished.
Unfortunately, just last week before senators careened out of town for another recess - and despite having subjected this far-reaching treaty to but a single cursory hearing in June 2004 - Republican leaders succeeded in accomplishing the administration's directive and passed the treaty by voice vote, with virtually no substantive debate. U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) mounted a last-ditch effort to stop or at least slow the cybercrime railroad. But he was unsuccessful due to lack of support from his conservative colleagues, who were eager to give the administration more power or who just didn't care in their rush to leave for vacation.
Now, thanks to the Senate's indifference, any person in this country who uses a computer in a manner that is of interest to a law enforcement agency of another country that has signed the Cybercrime Treaty may find themselves subject to our government collecting information on them and then sharing it with that foreign agency. The list of other nations that have already signed the treaty is not one that inspires confidence the data thus sought will be afforded proper privacy or constitutional protections. The list of signatory countries already includes Albania,Croatia, Ukraine, South Africa and dozens of others.
Why should this treaty, now part of the law of the land, concern the average American citizen?
For starters, its scope. The treaty covers not only crimes commonly considered "cybercrimes," that is, crimes of computers by computers. It covers any activities considered a crime by any signatory country that simply involves the use of a computer somewhere along the line. In other words, if the law enforcement officials in Croatia are investigating activities in their country that they consider criminal - political speech, or possession of a firearm, for example - they can now demand of U.S. law enforcement that it collect and turn over to them information they might demand which they allege involves a U.S. citizen, notwithstanding that U.S. citizen has done nothing deemed a crime under U.S. law. Of course, the U.S. citizen would be unaware his own government was thus snooping on him and sharing the fruits thereof with a foreign government.
Moreover, this latest treaty affords no privacy protections whatsoever for U.S.citizens. It also will force Internet service providers to comply, yet requires neither the U.S. government nor the foreign requesting government to reimburse Internet service providers for costs of such forced cooperation. In addition, if disputes under the treaty arise, the foreign requesting government is empowered to take the issue to the International Court of Justice. Even though the United States has not formally acceded to the court, it would be required pursuant to the terms of the Cybercrime Treaty to be bound by its decisions. Although Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in a letter to the Senate offering unqualified support for the treaty, promised the administration would not submit any disputes to the International Court of Justice, such promises are meaningless, because other nations will do so. Such fine points apparently were unfathomable by senators eager to do the administration's bidding.
The bottom line is that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including many who call themselves "conservative," were far more concerned with getting out of town for junkets than they were interested in protecting the privacy of their constituents and the sovereign interests of this country.
*Former Congressman and U.S. Attorney Bob Barr practices law in Atlanta.
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