Cybercrime: The Council of Europe Convention
CRS Report for Congress
The Council of Europe Convention
Specialist in European Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Forty-three countries, including the United States, have signed the Council of
Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime of November 2001. The U.S. Senate ratified the
Convention on August 3, 2006. The Convention seeks to better combat cybercrime by
harmonizing national laws, improving investigative abilities, and boosting international
cooperation. Supporters argue that the Convention will enhance deterrence, while critics
counter it will have little effect without participation by countries in which
cybercriminals operate freely. Others warn it will endanger privacy and civil liberties.
This report will be updated as events warrant.
The Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime was opened for signature on
November 23, 2001.1 The Convention is the first international treaty designed to address
several categories of crimes committed via the Internet and other computer networks.
Negotiations on the Convention began in 1997, following a determination by the Council
that the transnational character of cybercrime could only be tackled at the global level.
Since then, the increase in hacking incidents, the spread of destructive computer viruses,
and the minimal prosecution of such crimes in many states, have spurred on the Council’s
efforts. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks provided further momentum by raising
the specter of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure facilities, financial institutions, or
government systems, and by highlighting the way terrorists use computers and the Internet
to communicate, raise money, recruit, and spread propaganda. To date, the Convention
has been signed by 38 Council of Europe members and five non-members (the United
1 The Council of Europe has 46 members, including all 25 members of the European Union, and
seeks to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law throughout Europe.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
States, Canada, Japan, Montenegro, and South Africa) that also participated in the
The Convention’s main goal is to establish a “common criminal policy” to better
combat computer-related crimes worldwide through harmonizing national legislation,
enhancing law enforcement and judicial capabilities, and improving international
cooperation. To these ends, the Convention requires signatories to
!Define criminal offenses and sanctions under their domestic laws for
four categories of computer-related crimes: fraud and forgery, child
pornography, copyright infringements, and security breaches such as
hacking, illegal data interception, and system interferences that
compromise network integrity and availability. Signatories must also
enact laws establishing jurisdiction over such offenses committed on
their territories, registered ships or aircraft, or by their nationals abroad.
!Establish domestic procedures for detecting, investigating, and
prosecuting computer crimes, and collecting electronic evidence of any
criminal offense. Such procedures include the expedited preservation of
computer-stored data and electronic communications (“traffic” data),
system search and seizure, and real-time interception of data. Parties to
the Convention must guarantee the conditions and safeguards necessary
to protect human rights and the principle of proportionality.
!Establish a rapid and effective system for international cooperation. The
Convention deems cybercrimes to be extraditable offenses, and permits
law enforcement authorities in one country to collect computer-based
evidence for those in another. It also calls for establishing a 24-hour,
seven-days-a-week contact network to provide immediate assistance with
President George W. Bush transmitted the Convention to the Senate for U.S.
ratification on November 17, 2003 (Treaty 108-11). The Senate’s Committee on Foreign
Relations held a hearing on the Convention on June 17, 2004.3 On July 26, 2005, the
committee ordered the Convention favorably reported by voice vote, with the
recommendation that the Senate give its advice and consent to its ratification, subject to
several reservations and declarations. The Committee published a report on the
2 The 38 Council of Europe member state signatories are Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belgium,
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland,
France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg,
Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia,
Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, and the
3 See Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “Law Enforcement Treaties,” 108th Congress, 2nd
Session, June 17, 2004.
Convention on November 8, 2005.4 The Senate ratified the Convention by division vote
on August 3, 2006. The Convention will enter into force for the United States
approximately three months after the instrument of ratification is deposited with the
Council of Europe. In addition to the United States, 15 other states have ratified the
Convention to date.
The United States has not signed an additional “hate speech” protocol to the
Convention, and the Bush Administration stresses that it will not do so because it views
the protocol as conflicting with freedom of speech rights. This additional protocol,
approved in November 2002, defines racist or xenophobic acts committed through
computer networks as criminal offenses and prohibits distributing racist material via the
Internet; the protocol was opened for signature in January 2003. The original draft of the
Convention text contained language, supported by several European countries,
criminalizing racist websites, but this provision was dropped when the United States
resisted. As a result, negotiators agreed to address computer-related hate speech in a
separate protocol, which the United States and others could choose not to sign. To date,
29 members of the Council plus Canada and Montenegro have signed the Protocol, and
seven signatories have ratified it; the Protocol entered into force on March 1, 2006.
Possible Benefits and Risks
Convention supporters argue that it represents a significant step forward in tackling
cybercrime because it commits signatories to prosecute computer-related crimes
vigorously — which many countries fail to do currently. Council of Europe officials say
that the Convention will end cybercriminals’ “feeling of impunity.”5 They claim that by
mandating sanctions and making cybercrimes extraditable offenses, the Convention will
improve deterrence and reduce the number of countries in which criminals can avoid
prosecution. Advocates also argue that the Convention’s procedures for collecting
evidence will assist law enforcement authorities in the fight against terrorism. In general,
the information technology industry in the United States supports the Convention,
viewing it as helping to raise international legal standards against cybercrime to those
already in existence in the United States.6
Skeptics, however, point out that in order to serve as a deterrent, more states will
have to sign the Convention and abide by its mandates. They note that states that
participated in the Convention’s negotiations are not the “problem countries” in which
cyber criminals operate relatively freely. Hackers frequently route cyber attacks through
portals in Yemen or North Korea, neither of which are part of the Convention. In
addition, some analysts criticize the Convention for not permitting police authorities
4 See Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime,”
Exec. Rept. 109-6, 109th Congress, 1st Session, Nov. 8, 2005.
5 “European Cybercrime Pact Aims to Set Global Benchmark,” Agence France Presse, Nov. 22,
6 Declan McCullagh, “Global Cybercrime Treaty Gets Senate Nod,” Silicon.com, Aug. 7, 2006.
direct cross-border access to computer data, which they argue creates an extra, time-
The Convention has also come under fire from civil liberties groups concerned that
it undermines individual privacy rights and expands surveillance powers too far. The
American Civil Liberties Union claims that U.S. authorities will use the Convention to
conduct surveillance and searches that would not be permitted under current U.S. law.
Others fear that the Convention lacks a dual criminality provision, making it possible for
foreign governments to request that the United States investigate crimes not considered
offenses under U.S. law; the U.S. Justice Department counters that it may deny any
assistance to a foreign government that contravenes U.S. sovereignty, security, or other
interests.8 European critics also worry that the Convention allows the transfer of personal
data to countries outside Europe, such as the United States, that they believe have less
protective laws regarding the use of such information. Council of Europe officials
dismiss such fears, arguing that the Convention provides adequate civil liberty safeguards
and limits information transfers to specific criminal investigations. Meanwhile, some
business and consumer groups are concerned that the Convention’s provisions could
increase costs to service providers, impede the development of security technologies and
sale of encryption programs, and negatively affect consumer confidence in e-commerce.
Both the Clinton and Bush Administrations worked closely with the Council of
Europe on the Convention. U.S. officials believe that it “removes or minimizes the many
procedural and jurisdictional obstacles that can delay or endanger international
investigations and prosecutions of computer-related crimes.”9 The Bush Administration
was pleased with the Convention’s data preservation approach, which requires the storage
of specified data — relevant to a particular criminal investigation and already in a service
provider’s possession — for a limited period of time. It views this provision, currently
lacking in many national laws, as key to improving the counter-terrorist capabilities of law
enforcement officials worldwide.10
As noted above, the Bush Administration submitted the Convention to the Senate for
ratification in November 2003, and the Senate ratified it on August 3, 2006. The United
States will comply with the Convention based on existing U.S. federal law; no new
implementing legislation will be required. Legal analysts say that U.S. negotiators
7 William New, “Privacy agenda in 2002 has international flavor,” National Journal Technology
Daily, Jan. 23, 2002; “Under Antiterror Law, Government Can Use U.S. Standards to Nab
Foreign Hackers,” Associated Press, Nov. 21, 2001.
8 “Senate Ratifies Cybercrime Treaty,” Washington Internet Daily, Aug. 7, 2006.
9 U.S. Department of Justice, “Frequently Asked Questions About the Council of Europe
Convention on Cybercrime” [http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/coefaqs.html].
10 The United States draws a distinction between data preservation and data retention. The latter
requires service providers to routinely collect and keep all or a large portion of traffic. The
United States largely opposes broad data retention regimes, but views preservation as striking a
good balance between the needs of law enforcement, business interests, and privacy rights.
succeeded in scrapping most objectionable provisions, thereby ensuring that the
Convention tracks closely with existing U.S. laws.
Proponents assert that many of the Convention’s provisions reflect the spirit of some
congressional actions related to cybercrime, cyberterrorism and cybersecurity, including
the following two laws.
!The USA PATRIOT Act (P.L. 107-56, introduced as H.R. 3162 by
Representative James Sensenbrenner in October 2001) authorizes the
interception of electronic communications for the collection of evidence
related to terrorism, computer fraud, and abuse (Sections 201 and 202).
It also clarifies the definition of protected computers and increases fines
and prison terms for damage (Section 814).
!The Homeland Security Act (P.L. 107-296 introduced as H.R. 5005 by
Representative Richard Armey in June 2002) directs the U.S. Sentencing
Commission to reevaluate federal sentencing guidelines for crimes
involving computer-related fraud and hacking offenses, especially against
restricted federal government systems (Section 225, the Cyber Security
Enhancement Act of 2002).