Yahoo: We need effective cybercrime laws

Policymakers need to define illegal use of technology rather than focus on how an action breaks the law, Yahoo exec says.

Tom Espiner Special to CNET News
2 min read
Yahoo has called for "effective" legislation, combined with industry self-regulation, to deal with online fraud, child abuse and other cybercrime.

The Internet services giant appealed on Thursday for policymakers to concentrate on defining illegal use of technology, rather than focus on how an action breaks the law.

"Effective policy defines what is legal and what is illegal. If legislation is concerned with how an action is illegal, it creates rigidity, and means the legislation won't keep up with the technology," Robin Pembrooke, the director of product operations for Yahoo Europe, told ZDNet UK.

The lack of global legislation adds to the complexity of the situation, Pembroke added. "It's not realistic to have global legislation, but we do need international consistency," he said. "One example is 'child abuse' content, which has a different definition in the U.S. than in the U.K."

Pembrooke advocated a combination of legislation and self-regulation of Internet businesses in order to combat cybercrime.

"There are some really good examples of where the industry has come together. The Internet Watch Foundation is funded by industry, and without legislation, this approach has achieved fantastic things in the last five years," Pembrooke said.

Worldwide cooperation
An Interpol officer agreed with Pembroke's remarks, and called for a global legislative structure to make international evidence transfer easier, and international response times quicker.

"(Pembrooke) is completely right, we shouldn't overlegislate," said Bernhard Otupal, a crime intelligence officer at the Financial and High Tech Crime Sub-Directorate of Interpol. "In the EU, there are so many different regulations covering different technologies. What we need is real international legislation and a global legislative framework."

"There must be a self-regulatory process for the big players, with internal rules, as that is efficient. However, self-regulation is not enough--you need both legislation and self regulation," Otupal said.

Yahoo said that over-legislation is incompatible with the needs of its customers, which needed to be balanced with the needs of governments.

"We find users want freedom of expression, privacy and ease of use. We have to balance that with the needs of governments looking for increasing access to data," Pembrooke said.

Last year, Yahoo was accused of passing data to the Chinese government that led to the arrest and imprisonment of two Chinese Internet users, including a journalist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Saying Yahoo felt "horrible" about the political arrests of Internet users in China, Pembroke underlined that the Web company believes it's better to be there and cooperate with the authorities than not be there.

"By cooperating with the authorities, we can improve people's lives. By giving them access to the Internet, this raises awareness in differences in government approaches, and increase forces for change," he said.

"Our challenge is we have to work inside the laws of the countries we operate in," Pembrooke said.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.