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30 Countries Approve Convention on Cybercrime - 2001-11-23

Government officials from 30 countries [26 Council of Europe countries plus the United States, Canada, Japan, and South Africa] have approved the first-ever international treaty to combat computer-related crime.

The treaty - called the Convention on Cybercrime - is intended to fight computer crime and aid investigators in tracking down terrorists.

Signed by 30 countries, the treaty also calls for greater international cooperation in preventing so-called hackers from breaking into computer systems. In addition, it strengthens efforts to fight computer fraud as well as the distribution of child pornography on the Internet.

But efforts to ban websites that promote racial hatred were excluded from the treaty after the United States delegation expressed its opposition.

The U.S. ambassador to Budapest, Nancy Brinker, said the delegation feared the ban would violate America's guarantee of freedom of expression, contained in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. "Well, in our constitution, we have the right of free speech," she said. "So there are issues there that we need to make sure that all of our citizens are comfortable with."

David Russell-Johnston, the president of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, which has played a leading role in drafting the cybercrime convention, did not hide his displeasure at the U.S. refusal. Banning hate speech, he suggested, was important in the fight against global terrorism. "I think a line does have to be drawn," he said. "Because I don't think the Internet should be used as a means of inflaming attitudes. And I would have thought that, despite the United States' objections, they would not be very happy about giving Mr. bin Laden free access, even if that did breach the amendment."

Despite the disagreements, Council of Europe officials say they are pleased with the convention. They say they hope that it will eventually lead to the establishment of an international cyber-police force that will catch criminals and protect children from computer-related crime.