Washington, 12 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Justice and interior ministers from eight of the world's major industrial nations reached an agreement this week to work together to combat international high-tech and Internet-related crimes.
Ministers from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, France and Russia met in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday for an international conference on fighting "cybercrime."
The idea for the conference came during their Summit of The Eight in Denver last June when each country pledged to enhance its abilities to investigate and prosecute high-tech crimes.
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno told reporters at the conclusion of the two-day meeting in Washington that Internet crime will be one of the greatest law enforcement challenges of the twenty-first century.
Reno said: "As a group, we recognize that we have entered a new age -- the computer age. Twenty-first century technologies are going to change how we live, and make things easier. But computers and networks are also opening up a new frontier of crime. Criminals are no longer restricted by national boundaries."
The Internet -- the world's largest computer network -- has existed largely without legal restrictions or boundaries since its inception. As a result, it has become an ideal place for criminals to carry out crimes such as fraud, theft, money laundering and child pornography.
Since no one nation owns the Internet, countries have been scrambling for ways to design guidelines that would be applicable to their own legal systems as well as serve as an effective deterrent to criminals from other countries.
Said Reno: "We know now that a criminal can sit in one country and disrupt a computer system in another country thousands of miles away. If we are to keep up with cybercrime, we must work together as never before."
Reno announced that the ministers had agreed upon a 10-point statement of principles and action plan to prevent transnational high-tech criminal activity.
Among the principles the nations committed to are:
-- Having a sufficient number of trained and equipped law enforcement personnel allocated to the task of fighting cybercrime.
-- Establishing high-tech crime contacts that would be available on a 24-hour basis.
-- Developing faster ways to trace attacks coming through computer networks.
-- Ensuring a full criminal prosecution in the country a suspect flees to, if extradition is not possible.
-- Saving and preserving electronic evidence before computer criminals can destroy it.
-- Reviewing current legal systems to ensure they appropriately criminalize computer offenses.
-- Working cooperatively with industry to devise new solutions to detect, prevent and punish computer criminals.
Reno declined to specifically mention the cost of such measures, saying each country would have to work within its own budget restrictions.
When asked whether the agreement would be sufficient if countries outside the eight participating nations refuse to cooperate, Reno said she still believed the effort would be "tremendously effective."
Said Reno: "There is much we can all do with existing resources and better recognition of the common problems we face trying to fight these kinds of crime."
Reno promised that each country would soon set a specific timetable for implementing the agreements.
She added: "Just as computers can aid the criminal, they can also aid law enforcement ... With emerging technologies, no longer will we have to fight twenty-first century crimes with nineteenth century tools."