Last week, the Senate ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime Treaty. This international treaty was ostensibly designed to aid countries seeking to prosecute hackers, virus developers, and child pornographers. But because the treaty does not require the targeted crimes to be unlawful in both countries, it could require the American government to enforce foreign laws that may violate the rights of Americans, including the right to free speech.
The ACLU’s Marv Johnson said:
“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.”
The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s position states that:
“the treaty seems more like a law enforcement ‘wish list’ than an international instrument truly respectful of human rights already enshrined in many international conventions […] The US government’s support for the ratification of the Convention on Cybercrime… appears like an attempt to obtain more powers than what it could obtain with the USA PATRIOT Act.”
With the potential to undermine our Constitution, what kind of treatment did this treaty get in the American press? So far as I can tell, there was a wire report from the Associated Press that contained six short paragraphs. The only sources cited in the article were Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, both of whom were predictably supportive of the agreement. Judging from this article, it would appear that there was no opposition to this treaty, despite the foreboding statements from the ACLU and EPIC above.
Is the media just continuing to fail in its mission to inform the public, or is there an incentive for their silence? The Internet represents the most serious competitive threat that newspapers and television have ever faced. This treaty addresses only Internet-related criminal activity. It’s existence reinforces the notion that the Internet is a scary and dangerous place. And by broadening the government’s powers to surveil and investigate suspects associated with the Internet, the treaty establishes another avenue for intimidation of online journalists and activists. The conventional media must view this with glee.