30 countries sign cybercrime treaty

Thirty countries signed a controversial international treaty to combat online crime Friday. Representatives of 26 Council of Europe (CoE) member states, plus the U.S., Canada, Japan, and South Africa, put their signatures on the document at an international meeting in Budapest.

The Convention on Cybercrime, sponsored by the CoE, criminalizes activities such as online child pornography, fraud and hacking, and sets rules on how the Internet should be policed. A footnote added earlier this month seeks to eliminate racist Web sites and to define and criminalize hate speech on computer networks, but was eliminated from the body of the treaty in order to accommodate the U.S.

Civil rights groups and Internet service providers (ISPs) have strongly objected to the treaty, which they say contains vague language, imposes heavy burdens on providers, and was drafted in a secretive process that did not allow enough public input.

The cybercrime treaty, which is open for all countries, was drafted by the 43 member states of the CoE -- which is not affiliated with the European Union -- the U.S., Canada, Japan, and South Africa. The treaty will come into effect when five states, including at least three CoE member states, ratify it.

But the 15-member European Union is pushing for its own separate law against cybercrime, which is expected to use the Convention as a starting point.

"We welcome the Convention. It will clarify the legal situation, help dissuade cybercriminals, and will create awareness of the issue of cybercrime," said Per Haugaard, spokesman for information society issues for the European Commission, the EU's executive branch.

The Commission will hold a one-day conference next Tuesday on the topic, focusing on the issue of data retention requirements for telecommunication companies and ISPs.

The Commission aims to publish a draft law by the end of the year, Haugaard said.

(Paul Meller in Brussels contributed to this report.)

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