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Legislative Proposals to Protect Online Privacy and Security

March 9, 2015

Courtesy of Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division

Our growing reliance on computer networks and electronic devices in almost every aspect of our lives has been accompanied by an increasing threat from individuals, organized criminal networks, and nation states who victimize American citizens and businesses.  Hackers can steal or hold for ransom our most valuable and personal information.  They can invade our homes by secretly activating webcams.  They can steal financial information to line their pockets while jeopardizing the credit and financial stability of everyday Americans.  A new generation of organized criminals is able to steal the personal information of millions of victims from a computer halfway around the world.  These developments also pose a widespread threat to American businesses and the economy.  Cyber criminals can orchestrate massive disruptions of businesses and can electronically spirit away millions of dollars worth of trade secrets in seconds.  Every individual has a stake in protecting computers and computer networks from intrusions and abuse.  One 2014 report found a 62% increase in the number of breaches over the previous year, resulting in over half a billion identies exposed – a 368% increase. The global cost of cybercrime is estimated to exceed $100 billion.

An essential part of the mission of the Department of Justice is to protect Americans from emerging criminal threats such as the ones described above and to deter, disrupt, and prosecute the criminals who are culpable.  The department’s prosecutors, along with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies, are working diligently using the legal tools at our disposal to protect personal information and vindicate the privacy rights of citizens and businesses.  But just as our adversaries adapt to new technologies and global realities, so must we.

On Jan. 12, 2015, the President announced new legislative proposals designed to protect the online privacy and security of American citizens and businesses.  These proposals include a set of targeted updates to the criminal code to provide additional tools to prosecute offenders and deter and disrupt criminal conduct.  Some of the proposals will enable the department to address the growth of specific types of crime, such as the sale of illegal spyware or the use of botnets — networks of victim computers surreptitiously infected with malicious software, or “malware.”  Other proposals address shortcomings in existing statutory tools, such as the government’s ability to prosecute cases involving insiders, including government or corporate employees, who use their access to information systems to misappropriate sensitive and valuable data.  The proposals also respond to changes in the threats posed by cyber criminals, such as by adding provisions to enable the prosecution of hacking by organized crime groups and to give federal courts the authority to sentence the most significant cyber crimes in line with similar financial crimes.

As part of our effort to explain to the public why these proposals are important, and also how they have been drafted in a careful and targeted way, the Justice Department’s Criminal Division will outline several of the proposed changes and set forth how they will enable us to protect Americans’ privacy and security.  Our first post will focus on a proposed amendment to the statute that gives federal courts the authority to issue civil injunctions to stop ongoing cyber crimes.


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Updated March 3, 2017