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Kathleen O'Toole, News Service (650) 725-1939; e-mail:

Attorney General Reno proposes coordinated LawNet for Internet crime investigations

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno announced initiatives for fighting cyber crime Monday, Jan. 10, at a meeting on campus of the National Association of Attorneys General.

Speaking to several hundred state prosecutors and others at Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Reno proposed a multi-jurisdictional "LawNet," which would include around-the-clock teams of highly skilled computer crime investigators and prosecutors, regional computer forensic laboratories and local-state-federal sharing of equipment, expertise and training expenses.

The nation's top law enforcement officer also suggested the states and federal government work on new agreements for out-of-state subpoenas and warrants for Internet crimes.

New international relationships also need to be built, because "international borders don't mean anything" to cyber criminals, Reno said. She noted that a cyberstalker in Palo Alto might actually reach a victim in San Jose by routing anonymous, threatening messages through New York, Argentina and Japan. She suggested consideration be given to allowing witnesses in other countries to give court testimony via video conferencing.

"The Internet is indeed a splendid tool of wonder, but there is a dark side of hacking crashing networks and viruses that we absolutely must address," Reno told her state counterparts. She invited them to Washington to plan a coordinated operation.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who hosted the two-day conference in cooperation with the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology, said he was certain the state attorneys general would take Reno up on her offer. He told reporters that the states want to ensure that national standards are developed for computer forensics.

"The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms have separate systems for ballistic evidence now, and that's the kind of problem we need to avoid in this area," Lockyer said.

Reno said LawNet also would need to focus on privacy issues; for example, protecting consumers from invasions like the CD Universe extortion case reported in newspapers the same day as her speech. In that case, an Eastern European hacker allegedly stole credit card information from the Internet music retailer and posted the information on a website after the company refused to pay him $100,000.

Later in the conference, Kathleen Sullivan, dean of Stanford Law School, urged the prosecutors to be pragmatic in proposing new laws to regulate the Internet. She asked them to be neither generalists who insist all current laws are adequate nor particularists who believe new technology is so drastically different that existing laws don't cover Internet crime.

The Internet provides new opportunities not only for criminals but also for law enforcement, Sullivan said. Hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, for example, may use it to recruit members faster than by old methods, but law enforcement agencies also can use the Internet to better monitor the activities of hate groups, she said. Before proposing new laws to address problems on the Internet, she suggested the attorneys general analyze whether self-regulation, technology or market solutions might work.

In Reno vs. ACLU, the Supreme Court rightfully struck down a statute that would have made it illegal to post indecent content on the Internet if it were accessible to persons under age 18. The technical solution was for Internet providers to offer filtering software, she said.

"The trick for you," Sullivan told the prosecutors, "is to decide when and where you are really needed."


By Kathleen O'Toole

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