DoJ steps into NZ cyberlaw fray

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has offered to help write cyberlaws for a number of countries it says are lagging, including Australia and New Zealand.

"The US federal government has offered to provide an assistant US attorney to overseas departments to advise on the essential elements of computer crimes," says IT lawyer Craig Horrocks, recently returned from a DoJ workshop on electronic crimes in Boston.

While Russia has already accepted the offer, Horrocks understands the New Zealand government has yet to respond.

"The US can lead the way but if there are renegade states which are either too lazy or too stupid to take this issue seriously, they will become havens for electronic criminals," Horrocks said.

A spokesperson for the associate minister of justice said the department has not yet been approached by the DoJ on this matter.

New Zealand has no laws covering any type of computer crime except for the theft of a computer. Even the simple act of transferring funds electronically is unprotected.

In April 1999, Computerworld NZ reported the case R (the government) versus Wilkinson - Wilkinson was charged with dishonestly obtaining money from a financial institution by claiming to own various vehicles and machinery that could be used as collateral.

Although he was at first found guilty of "obtaining by false pretences", the Court of Appeal subsequently ruled in his favour because the bank had electronically transferred the money to Wilkinson's partnership account instead of paying him by cheque or cash.

Minister of Justice at the time, Tony Ryall, told Computerworld NZ the law would be tightened up with haste, but 13 months later the law is still on the books and it is still not illegal to steal money if it's transferred to a bank account electronically. Director of the Centre for Banking Studies at New Zealand's Massey University, David Tripe, warns the loophole must be tightened or face a situation where it's "open slather for fraud".

ASB Bank is the only New Zealand bank willing to discuss the matter on record.

"Politicians need to appreciate the rapid growth in e-commerce and the number of transactions that are starting to go over the Internet," says manager for electronic banking Matthew Bartlett.

"They need to get a grip on it in terms of laws and remedies that they put in place, otherwise they will jeopardise the future of e-commerce in New Zealand."

Global law void stunts e-trade

- By Sandra Van Dijk

Lack of international uniformity in the recent proliferation of national e-commerce laws threatens to inhibit the worldwide growth of e-trading, leading law firm Minter Ellison warned last week. The group's technology lawyer, Robert Neely, said the disparity in electronic signature laws made e-commerce a risky and confusing business. "It would be ironic if the current proliferation of national laws to encourage e-commerce actually retarded its worldwide growth," Neely said. He said individual governments have been slow to enact laws consistent with draft uniform rules on electronic signatures recently prepared by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law to harmonise national approaches to electronic authentication. Neely cited legal inconsistencies in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia as a local regional example. "Internet-based trade is, by its nature, global. If the global village is to capitalise on the Internet's potential, it is imperative that countries adopt consistent legislation wherever possible, especially on important issues such as electronic signatures," he said.

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