Reno calls for network to stop Internet crime

Adding her voice to those who believe more can be done to stop crime on the Internet, US Attorney General Janet Reno said here on Monday that a new "LawNet" was needed that would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to coordinate anticybercrime efforts among individual states and even nations.

While acknowledging that the Internet is a "force that brings us together" and "has changed the world forever," Reno was preoccupied in her speech before the National Association of Attorneys General with what she called "the dark side of the Internet," including child pornography, terrorism, stalking, fraud, gambling and extortion.

"The Internet provides a larger number and more accessible victims," she said.

Among the benefits of her LawNet proposal would be to address the problem of jurisdiction of a crime, Reno said. For example, Reno said tracing the location of a stalker may take investigators through a byzantine series of anonymous remailers across states and sometimes continents. Such investigations can involve different laws and customs that could affect everything from issuing subpoenas to extradition. By establishing guidelines in advance through LawNet, Reno argued, jurisdictional bottlenecks could be avoided and criminals brought to justice more quickly.

Although the Internet has contributed to the "globalisation of crime," Reno said, "cybercriminals should get the clear message that there's no safe place to hide in the world."

California Attorney General Bill Lockyear said that while Reno's call for LawNet is a step in the right direction, he worried that centralised approaches risked "smothering new technologies and e-commerce." He also said there's been significant progress combating crime at the local and state level.

Attorney General Jim Doyle of Wisconsin called Reno's proposal "a good plan." But he agreed with Lockyear that state officials haven't been standing by waiting for the federal government to take action. Doyle said three years ago, his state established a computer crime unit in the Criminal Investigation Division that currently targets online "sex predators, fraud and gambling." Both he and Lockyear expressed concerns about where the funds would come from to underwrite Reno's LawNet proposal.

Kaye Caldwell, California policy director for the Internet Alliance, an Internet industry advocacy group in Washington, said Reno's proposal could be beneficial because it would provide a level of consistency, particularly in defining what constitutes consumer fraud or privacy violations. "Still, the details need to be gone through," she said.

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