Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

[GILC-plan] NYT: Europe Hacker Laws Could Make Protest a Crime

------- Forwarded message follows ------- Date sent: Thu, 06 Mar 2003 10:36:57 -0500 To: From: Bobson Wong <> Subject: [GILC-plan] NYT: Europe Hacker Laws Could Make Protest a Crime

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Perhaps some of our European colleagues have some more insights on this...

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Europe Hacker Laws Could Make Protest a Crime By PAUL MELLER {New York Times]

BRUSSELS, March 4 - The justice ministers of the European Union have agreed on laws intended to deter computer hacking and the spreading of computer viruses. But legal experts say the new measures could pose problems because the language could also outlaw people who organize protests online, as happened recently, en masse, with protests against a war in Iraq.

The agreement, reached last week, obliges all 15 member states to adopt a new criminal offense: illegal access to, and illegal interference with an information system. It calls on national courts to impose jail terms of at least two years in serious cases.

Critics from the legal profession say the agreement makes no legal distinction between an online protester and terrorists, hackers and spreaders of computer viruses that the new laws are intended to trap.

Last Wednesday, protesters against a possible war against Iraq barraged the White House and Senate offices with tens of thousands of messages by phone, fax and e-mail, as part of what was billed as the first-ever "virtual protest march."

Under the new agreement, if European Union citizens undertook a similar electronic bombardment of the e-mail, fax and phone lines of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, they might be liable for prosecution, said Leon de Costa, chief executive of Judicium, a legal consultancy based in London. The new code "criminalizes behavior which, until now, has been seen as lawful civil disobedience," Mr. de Costa said.

Ulrich Sieber, a professor of law at Munich University, urged lawmakers to amend the code to add a specific reference to the right to free expression as outlined in the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Human Rights.

Marco Cappato, a European Parliament deputy from Italy, said he failed to persuade the ministers to insert wording that differentiates between the online equivalent of trespassing and someone breaking and entering. The role of the European Parliament is consultative, so it cannot force changes to the law.

A European Union diplomat involved in the drafting of the measures agreed that protection mechanisms in the code are soft and said that amendments could still be made.

-- Bobson Wong Executive Director Digital Freedom Network 1372 Broadway, 20th Floor New York, NY 10018 U.S.A. Phone: +(1-646) 223-1282 Fax: +(1-646) 223-1290 E-mail: Web:

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