Law enforcement officials are testing the waters for new entitlement to fight cybercrime, an effort that is drawing close scrutiny from civil liberties groups.
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno today released a much anticipated report calling for a modification of established laws to help officials combat Internet crimes.
Separately, Assistant Attorney General Eric Holder told a congressional committee yesterday that the Justice Department may seek the ability to issue national warrants to facilitate cybercrime investigations. Currently, law enforcement officers must get warrants state by state.
The study, which has been circulating in draft form since last week, already has drawn criticism from privacy and civil liberties groups.
The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Reno yesterday criticizing the report's conclusions and warning that the DOJ's recommendations would undermine constitutionally guaranteed privacy rights.
In particular, the group took issue with the report's characterization of online anonymity as "a thorny issue" for law enforcement.
"Anonymity on the Internet is not a thorny issue; it is a constitutional right," the letter reads.
The report comes in the aftermath of a spate of Web attacks against popular sites such as Yahoo, eBay, Amazon.com and CNN. The so-called distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) that brought down the sites involved software that takes over a host of computers to inundate a target computer system with packets of useless information.
The round of attacks has raised concern about online security and has caused government to rethink its role in investigating and combating attacks. President Clinton has taken steps to meet with lawmakers and Internet executives to stress the need to boost security measures.
The DOJ report, slated to be posted online tomorrow, is an analysis of policies and laws related to crimes on the Internet, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.
The study concludes that current laws for the Internet are appropriate for cases involving fraud, child pornography, prescription drug sales, firearms, gambling, alcohol, securities fraud and intellectual property. But it also calls for ways to give law enforcement officials more methods of tracking down suspected Internet criminals, including giving investigators more resources for training and investigating online crimes.
"The inability to track down sophisticated criminals who hide their identities online, the need for better coordination among law enforcement agencies, and the need for trained and well-equipped personnel at all levels of law enforcement is critical to fighting cybercrime," a DOJ statement about the report reads.