The lack of an international agreement on cybercrime and terrorism is thwarting efforts to bring terrorists to justice, said a report released this week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Nations should consider a universal agreement requiring countries to cooperate with each other during cybercrime and cyberterrorism investigations, the report said.
The absence of such an agreement "is an impediment to effective international cooperation in some terrorism-related investigations and prosecutions," the report said. An agreement should impose "specific obligations" on nations.
The report, focused on cyberterrorism, said terrorist groups are using the internet to distribute propaganda to recruit members and to incite violence, the report said. The internet "makes it easy for an individual to communicate with relative anonymity, quickly and effectively across borders, to an almost limitless audience".
The report is designed to provide practical guidance for the investigation and prosecution of internet terrorism cases, said NODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.
"Just as internet use among regular, lawful citizens has increased in the past few years, terrorist organisations also make extensive use of this indispensable global network for many different purposes," he said.
Several cybersecurity groups and experts contacted about the report said they either weren't aware of it or hadn't reviewed it.
But Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, called the report "one-sided."
The report "gives very little attention to the negative impact on privacy, free speech and other rights that can arise from the misuse of cybercrime and cyberterrorism powers," he said. "The report selectively surveys the world's laws, tending to pick the more draconian and intrusive provisions from any given country, without providing any context, either as to how the more democratic countries limit these laws with judicial controls and oversight or how these laws are misused to limit dissent in less democratic countries."
Dempsey called the report disappointing in "how little attention it gives to human rights." Government officials should not use the report as a "reliable guide" on efforts to fight cyberterrorism, he added.
Much of the 158-page report describes established practices for fighting cyberterrorism in the US, UK and other countries that have successfully prosecuted such cases. But the report includes several recommendations.
Law enforcement agencies should work with Internet service providers to collect "key evidence" in cyberterrorism cases, the report recommended. "While some countries, such as Egypt, have implemented legislation requiring ISPs to identify users before allowing them Internet access, similar measures may be undertaken by ISPs on a voluntary basis," the report said.
Operators of Wi-Fi networks and cybercafés should consider requiring users to register and identify themselves, the report recommended.
The UN report also recommends governments put policies in place, including outlawing terrorist activity online and regulating ISPs. The report didn't recommend specific policies in some areas, although it noted that efforts to impose monitoring requirements on internet cafés in some countries may not be useful if terrorists continue to have access to other forms of public Internet access, including airport and library Wi-Fi hotspots.
In addition, governments should maintain human rights protections, the report said. "The issue of the extent to which governments should regulate terrorism-related content on the Internet is problematic, requiring the balancing of law enforcement and human rights considerations," the report said.