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By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-04-14 Print this article Print

OK, lets say Im a market research company. I make my living by sending out millions of e-mail messages with embedded HTML tags, devised to send uniquely identifiable queries to my server when a message is read—thereby to determine which e-mail addresses are promptly receiving and reading my customers commercial content. Suppose that a popular e-mail client application, or an ISPs e-mail server software, recognizes and blocks that identifiable query, under the control of an end-user privacy preference setting. Does that "intentionally hinder the function" of my business intelligence collection system, "without right," by "suppressing computer data"? Can you afford to go to court and see what the judges say?

I want to be fair to those who make good-faith efforts to strike a careful balance. The Explanatory Report, for example, that accompanies the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime explains its intentions in the key area of whether possession or use of security testing tools would be inappropriately criminalized: "As a reasonable compromise the Convention restricts its scope to cases where the devices are objectively designed, or adapted, primarily for the purpose of committing an offence." This language is intended to exclude tools that have legitimate security assessment applications. Ive heard many security professionals decry the Conventions criminalization of their tools, apparently without appreciating the effort thats been made to avoid that result.

It seems to me, however, that engineers hear the word "law" and think "the way the world behaves." Legislators hear the word "law" and think "how were going to make the voters and campaign contributors happy." When legislators declared laws conflict with engineers discovered laws, one cant expect the politicians to apologize and change. Theyre more likely to compound their original errors.

Enterprises already strive to guide the creation of laws that affect the taxes theyll pay or the competition theyll face. Enterprise professionals should likewise seek involvement in processes that redraw the IT playing field.

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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