27th Sep 2023

Brussels to wage war on cyber crime

The European Commission has tabled a proposal suggesting how to win the war against high-tech crimes such as online fraud, child pornography and hacking - just days after institutional websites in EU state Estonia were crippled by a series of cyber attacks.

"The number of cyber crimes is growing and criminal activities are becoming increasingly sophisticated and internationalized," EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said on Tuesday (22 May) after his paper had been OKd by the EU's executive body.

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"There is an urgent need to take action at national, European as well as international level," he added.

In practice, Brussels is kicking off efforts to establish an exchange between the public and private sector, involving police, judicial and administrative authorities on the one hand and businesses on the other.

According to Mr Frattini, public-private cooperation could lead to the EU-wide blocking of sites containing illegal content, especially material on child sexual abuse, as well as see the private sector sharing relevant information on cyber-crime incidents with law enforcement authorities.

Currently, companies and internet service providers are reluctant to hand over sensitive information, arguing they protect business secrets.

"However, such information may be needed if public authorities are to formulate an efficient and appropriate anti-crime policy," commissioner Frattini underlined in his paper, adding that Brussels will in November this year host a conference touching upon the sensitive issues.

Legislative caution

On the legislative front, the commission is to act cautiously and limit itself to launching a public consultation on whether to have an EU-wide law on so-called identity theft or not.

Currently, identity theft - the use of personal information such as a credit card number to commit other crimes - is not criminalized across the entire EU bloc, with most EU states left to prosecute on the basis of another offense such as fraud, something much more difficult to prove.

But harmonisation of crime definitions and national penalties in the field of computer-related crime "is not yet appropriate," commissioner Frattini's paper states.

According to Estonian conservative MEP Tunne Kelam "we need to prepare for cyber terrorism…and address it in a rapid and much more coordinated way within the EU and NATO."

Referring to three weeks of systematic cyber-attacks against Estonia's government and private websites - something Tallinn claims has been orchestrated by Moscow – Mr Kelam suggests not only "to exchange relevant information, but also to pool expertise to develop common tool-box for cyber defence."

The Estonian case

In 2003, Estonia volunteered to set up a centre of excellence on cooperative cyber-defence to deal with the legal aspects of fighting cyber terrorism, to promote cooperation between NATO members and to draft training programmes.

The centre should be up and running by the end of 2008, with Mr Kelam saying it is ironic that Estonia is the first country to be attacked in such a massive and coordinated way.

The European commission, for its part, is urging EU capitals to make better use of existing tools such as the Council of Europe's 2001 Convention on cyber crime, which gives the ground for a functioning judicial cooperation between contracting states.

"The commission will encourage member states and relevant third countries to ratify the convention and consider the possibility for the European Community to become a party to the convention," Brussels says.

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