2 minutes on...New federal bill targets ID thieves

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Those fighting the battle against privacy violations, spyware and other malicious attacks via the internet have a new weapon: the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act of 2007, authored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

The legislation not only gives law enforcement a host of new enforcement capabilities against cybercriminals, it allows victims of ID theft to seek restitution for losses caused by the theft.

“It fills gaps in existing laws and appears destined for unanimous passage in the Senate,” says Franck Journoud, manager of information security policy at the Business Software Alliance, a major proponent of the bill.

Despite the overwhelming agreement, two elements of the law evoke potential peril.
One, the bill allows victims of ID theft to seek restitution for both the time and expenses spent restoring credit and fixing the harm caused by ID theft. While that's a laudable goal, one attorney questions just how effective it will be.

“The real questions will be how many victims will attempt to take advantage of that provision, and whether they will be able to track down and recover monies from the identity thieves,” notes Joseph E. Addiego III, a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine, a national law firm.

“More realistically,” he wonders, “how are [victims] going to find criminals?” The shady nature of cybercriminals will only complicate this issue, he believes.

The second concern is the bill's elimination of the requirement that damage to a victim's computer must exceed $5,000 before law enforcement can prosecute the crime. By eliminating the  requirement, the bill creates a potentially very broad list of potentially illegal cyber activities, according to David Sohn, a senior policy counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit organization.

“It could cover the sending of a single unwanted email,” Sohn wrote on a blog. “Suppose I send you an unwanted email. It would be absurd to treat that as criminal, of course, but the law could easily be read to cover it.”

A teenager using a friend's computer to modify the friend's home page as a joke could likewise fall within the literal scope of the law, Sohn added. — Jim Carr
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