ACLU Disappointed with Senate Ratification of International Cybercrime Treaty, Measure Requires Government to Help Enforce Foreign Laws

August 4, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its disappointment with the Senate’s ratification of the “Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention,” or Cybercrime Treaty. That international agreement was signed by President Bush in late 2003 and now requires the American government to enforce foreign laws that may violate the rights and liberties of Americans.

“By ratifying this treaty, the Senate has undermined the core constitutional rights of Americans,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The provisions of the treaty will allow the government to enforce laws that violate what we stand for as a nation, laws that guarantee our right to free speech and free elections and rights that we urge other countries to embrace.”

The treaty requires signatories to have specific criminal laws in place and demands “mutual legal assistance” – in other words, a foreign country that is also a signatory to the treaty can demand that the United States assist it in investigating and prosecuting someone in this country. The treaty does not require that the activity in question be a crime in both nations, meaning the American government could now be required to assist countries whose laws and procedures differ sharply with the American understanding of justice.

Even laws in other countries respectful of civil rights could pose problems if they were enforced in America. For example, France and Germany have laws prohibiting discussion of Nazi philosophy, an activity protected here under the First Amendment. Under the treaty, these countries could demand assistance from the United States to investigate and prosecute individuals for speech that is constitutionally protected in this country.

Other signatories to the treaty include emerging democracies such as Ukraine and Bulgaria. While President Bush had signed the treaty in 2003, he waited two years before sending it to the Senate for ratification.

“The stark reality is that now the American government will be able to conduct surveillance on an individual who hasn’t broken any American law to help enforce the law of a country without the same protections and respect for the freedoms we cherish,” said Marv Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “We urge Congress to conduct vigorous oversight as this treaty is enforced.

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