March 29, 2000

FBI seeks more authority for fighting crime online

By Drew Clark
National Journal's Technology Daily

FBI Director Louis Freeh asked Congress Tuesday to grant the agency expanded legal authority to issue subpoenas and to apply racketeering laws in the fight against cybercrime.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information, Freeh said that administrative subpoenas, which have been used since 1996 in combating health care fraud, "would give us the ability to conduct inquires in another manner, and are particularly suited for conducting investigations over the Internet."

He also said that racketeering laws could, if applied sparingly, aid the law enforcement agency in securing more substantial convictions in cases of serious computer intrusion. "A statute drafted with three- or five-year penalties just doesn't contemplate the scope or extent of the damages" that could arise, for example, from an attack on electronic power grids.

"This is not something to be used in routine or even non-routine hacking cases, but there is an element of extreme damage or threat here," Freeh said. But he also said, "we are not asking for any more authority than are currently contemplated under the Constitution and Bill of Rights," and praised the existing balance between privacy rights and law enforcement tools.

Subcommittee Chairman Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., largely supported his proposals, although sought clarification on their implementation. Freeh also endorsed S. 2092, a bill introduced by Kyl and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would provide law enforcement with the ability to obtain nationwide "trap and trace" orders and permit federal jurisdiction of computer damage even if the $5,000 minimum damage threshold cannot be proven.

Some Senators questioned Freeh about his agency's ability to work with other departments and the private sector. Noting that both the Departments of Commerce and Treasury were not participating in the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said, "are you working to get cooperation of these agencies? Is there foot-dragging on the part of other bureaucracies?"

Freeh noted that departments already have computer centers of their own. Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, not a member of the Judiciary Committee but the chairman of the Senate's critical infrastructure protection working group, followed up by asking Freeh whether he agreed with many businesses that feel that the FBI is not good at sharing information about computer security.

"We have to respect the confidentiality and the value and secrecy" of information provided by businesses, Freeh said. "And they have to be willing to report incidents of authorities, as banks are required to by statute."



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