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EU Cybercrime Code Could Punish Online Demonstrations

Legal experts have voiced their concern about new European Union cybercrime rules approved by the 15 national justice ministers last Friday, because they say the rules don’t differentiate between a real criminal and political protesters expressing their views by e-mail. Last Wednesday protesters against a possible U.S. war against Iraq barraged the White House and U.S. Senate offices with tens of thousands of messages by phone, fax and e-mail, as part of what was billed as the first-ever “virtual protest march.” The 15 European ministers signed up to a code on cybercrime that makes no legal distinction between an online protester and the terrorists, virus merchants and hackers the code is designed to trap, according to legal practitioners and academics. The code forces all 15 Union countries to adopt a new criminal offense: illegal access to, and illegal interference with an information system, and calls on national courts to impose jail terms of at least two years in serious cases. In its introduction, the code references a recently adopted Council of Europe charter on cybercrime, which defines unsolicited e-mails designed to hinder the computer system of the recipient of the message as criminal activity. Full Story

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