Cyber crime-fighters: A model for international cooperation?

The United States and the European Union have developed strong operational partnerships for fighting cyber crime despite the lack of formal frameworks for the cooperation, according to a panel of officials from both sides of the Atlantic.

“It’s amazing in law enforcement channels how well we are able to share information,” said Thomas Dukes, a former cyber crime prosecutor in the Justice Department and now a policy adviser to the State Department.

The United States has collaborated with agencies in other countries on a number of successful takedowns of criminal organizations and networks, and this could serve as a model for broader cooperation on cybersecurity, participants said May 2 during a conference on trans-Atlantic cooperation. But serious challenges remain to creating formal alliances.

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Although U.S. cyber strategy is more secure than Europe’s, the United States still is struggling to define government’s role in its own cybersecurity, said Jane Holl Lute, deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department. The two sides also have differing views on privacy, and there is disagreement on Internet governance. Dukes said the broader policy debate on cybersecurity is only now beginning, but given the international nature of the Internet and the growing importance of cyberspace to national security economies, all sides agree that cooperation is needed.

“Our cooperation is not a choice; it is an obligation and a necessity,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, EU commissioner for home affairs.

The conference, held in Washington, was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the European Security Round Table.

Dukes said there is “an almost exponential growth in interest in talking about cyber,” by governments, and that a growing number of nations are creating cyber strategies and appointing senior officials in their foreign ministries.

Currently, the best model for international cyber collaboration is the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, a treaty drawn up by the Council of Europe in 2001 and ratified by the United States and some 30 other nations. It provides a legal framework for information between member countries and focuses on crimes committed online or via the Internet, such as copyright infringement, child pornography and network or computer breaches.

But even in law enforcement, where areas of common concern and cooperation are most advanced, information sharing usually is done on a case-by-case basis rather than under comprehensive framework, said Bruce McConnell, senior counsel to the DHS National Protection and Program Directorate.

Francois Rivasseau, deputy head of the EU’s delegation to the United States, pointed out that the largest international data flow on the Internet is between the United States and Europe, and that the two cultures share a common set of values.

Despite this, however, serious differences persist. Lute said that the United States has recently completed a major agreement with the EU on the exchange of airline passenger data. But that agreement took seven years to negotiate, in large part because of differing views on personal privacy. The United States views privacy as a limitation on government intrusion in personal lives, and Europe views it as the right of individuals to control information about themselves wherever it is.

Another issue to be resolved before common policies can be adopted is the role of government in cybersecurity. “That is not clear,” Lute said. Some hold that the Internet is a product of private-sector innovation in which the government has no role, and others view it as a war zone in which the government must take control to ensure security. Within government, some see cybersecurity as job for the military, while others see it as a civilian domain.

The Obama administration’s position is that “we do not want cyberspace to be a battlefield,” McConnell said. Cybersecurity legislation proposed by the president would give DHS primary responsibility for security of non-military networks. But other bills being considered would give the Defense Department, particularly the National Security Agency, a larger role in cybersecurity, and they do not include DHS.

Internet governance also is an issue of international dispute. Currently, the closest thing to a controlling authority is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit corporation administering policy under an agreement with the Commerce Department. But some people see ICANN as a puppet for U.S. control of the Internet and would prefer to see policy directed with a more international perspective, possibly in the United Nations.

While serious differences remain, there is agreement on the need for cooperation to combat a growing threat.

“For the time being, the bad guys have the upper hand,” Malmstrom said.

“The status quo with respect to cybersecurity is not acceptable,” Lute said.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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