As part of a last-minute flurry of legislative activity before lawmakers returned home for the Thanksgiving holidays, the U.S. Senate approved legislation aimed to at toughening the nations cyber-crime laws.
The Identify Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act (S. 2168), approved late on Nov. 15, would make it easier for law enforcement officials to prosecute cyber-extortionists. Current law only permits the prosecution of those who seek to extort companies or government agencies by explicitly threatening to shut down or damage a computer.
If ultimately passed by the House and signed by President Bush, the new law would make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison for threatening to steal or release information from a computer.
The bill also give victims of identity theft the ability to seek restitution for the loss of time and money spent restoring credit and remedying the harms of identity theft. In addition, the legislation targets pretextingm by making it federal crime to impersonate businesses in order to steal sensitive personal data.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vermont, a sponsor of the bill along with Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Penn., said the bill adds to the countrys "arsenal of tools to combat cyber-crime."
"Because a business as well as an individual can be a prime target for identity theft, our bill closes several gaps in the federal identity theft and the aggravated identity theft statutes to ensure that identity thieves who target a small business or a corporation can be prosecuted under these laws," Leahy said in floor remarks.
Many of the key provisions in the bill were originally introduced by Senators Orrin G. Hatch, R.-Utah, and Joseph R. Biden, D.-Del., as part of their Cyber Crime Act of 2007. The legislation was eventually incorporated into the Leahy-Specter bill.
"Millions of Americans spend billions of hours every year on the Internet for business, education, and recreation," Hatch said in a statement. "They need to know their government is providing adequate online protection for them. If aggressively enforced, these legislative updates will be a great protection for Americans security."
Other key provisions of the legislation include criminalizing online conduct that causes damage to a large number of computers, prohibiting the creation of botnets and allowing law enforcement officials to seize computer equipment and other property used to perpetrate computer crimes.
"The potential damage to our economy and infrastructure from certain computer viruses is unlimited," Hatch said. "Our law enforcement agencies are acutely aware that criminal organizations utilize these viruses, and societys conjoined computer networks present too tempting a target for thieves to pass up."
The potential for criminal mischief, Hatch said, must be "confronted swiftly and with all available means."
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