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The Council of Europe’s convention on cybercrime — which aims to set international standards for computer crimes and facilitate cross-border law enforcement investigations — is edging closer to adoption. The council’s Parliamentary Assembly, its 301-member deliberative body, voted in April to approve the current draft of the treaty. Experts say the treaty may be ready for signatures by this fall. The treaty has sparked its share of controversy, and the critics are growing louder. But they now appear to be divided into two factions. Civil liberties groups, such as Privacy International, and U.S. business concerns, such as AT&T Corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are in one camp. They are already on record opposing the treaty and continue to carp that the draft gives short shrift to privacy concerns and fails to account for the costs of complying with the expected load of foreign-based search warrants. European businesses, particularly telephone and Internet companies, are also on board with that view. The new faction adding to the din, though, are the mostly European critics who say the treaty doesn’t go far enough to punish or deter hate speech on the Internet. French attorney Marc Levy, lawyer for a French student group that successfully sued Yahoo for offering online auctions of Nazi artifacts, has complained to the Parliamentary Assembly that the treaty “stops short of protecting human dignity.” Levy and other critics question why the treaty is focused on corporate wrongs such as copyright infringement and not on hate speech. Council of Europe representatives decline to discuss why the treaty won’t include hate-speech provisions. But observers say the exclusion of hate-speech language — and the inclusion of copyright offenses — reflects the American influence on the treaty. The United States, as the world’s largest exporter of copyrighted works, weighed in behind the scenes through the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation. And provisions concerning hate speech are inconsistent with the First Amendment. Neither set of critics is likely to change the provisions of the current draft, says Guy de Vel, director of legal affairs for the Council of Europe. “Everything has been so carefully [weighed],” de Vel says, “[that] I don’t really see important parts of it changing.” A team of council-appointed experts is slated to review the treaty’s final language (or final languages, since it will be drafted in English and French) to iron out any unclear terms. Once done, the treaty will be offered up for signature. The Council of Europe, made up of 43 member nations, functions as a treaty-drafting body. It is not formally related to the 15-member European Union, which is considering passing its own cybercrime treaty because it views computer crime as a problem that falls within the E.U.’s economic mission. Also, E.U. regulations, once adopted, automatically go into effect, while a Council of Europe treaty must first be signed and ratified by member nations before it takes effect. Countries that sign the council’s cybercrime treaty will be agreeing to standardize criminal procedures relating to computer and digital evidence. The countries will also treat as crimes typical computer offenses such as intrusion, release of viruses, and e-mail interception, as well as copyright infringement, which is now handled by most countries under civil law. Treaty watchers believe the Council of Europe will finalize something very close to the current document shortly. But they say that if international criticism continues, ratification by the member states or other nations may become politically problematic.

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