DOJ Launches New Cyber Unit, Claims Privacy is Mission Critical

CCIPS Cybercrime Unit

The United States Department of Justice yesterday announced the creation of a new cybercrime unit within its Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

WASHINGTON D.C. – Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Department of Justice announced on Thursday the creation of a new team within its Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) during a talk at a Georgetown Law conference titled, “Cybercrime 2020: The Future of Online Crime and Investigations.” Known as the Cybercrime Unit, the team is tasked with enhancing public-private security efforts.

Caldwell made sure to distance herself, the new cybercrime unit, and the Justice Department as a whole from what she described as  the overarching misconception that privacy is an afterthought in the DOJ.

Of course, misconception is in the eye of the beholder given more than a year of unflattering revelations about government surveillance and alleged abuses of investigatory practices on the part of U.S. law enforcement agencies.

However, a large part of the Cybersecurity Unit’s mission will be to quell the growing distrust many Americans have toward law enforcement’s  high-tech investigative techniques. Even if that lack of trust, as Caldwell claimed, is based largely on misinformation about the technical abilities of the law enforcement tools and the manners in which they are used.

“In fact, almost every decision we make during an investigation requires us to weigh the effect on privacy and civil liberties, and we take that responsibility seriously,” Caldwell said.  “Privacy concerns are not just tacked onto our investigations, they are baked in.  Privacy concerns are in the laws that set the ground rules for us to follow; the departmental policies that govern our investigative and prosecutorial conduct; the accountability we must embrace when we present our evidence to a judge, a jury, and the public in an open courtroom; and in the proud culture of the department.”

She went on to note that the DOJ dedicates significant time and resources to protecting the privacy of Americans from criminals who steal financial and credit card information, online predators that stalk and exploit children, and cyber thieves who steal the trade secrets of American organizations.

“Prosecutors from the Cybersecurity Unit will provide a central hub for expert advice and legal guidance regarding the criminal electronic surveillance statutes for both U.S. and international law enforcement conducting complex cyber investigations to ensure that the powerful law enforcement tools are effectively used to bring the perpetrators to justice while also protecting the privacy of every day Americans,” Caldwell said.  “The Cybersecurity Unit will work hand-in-hand with law enforcement and will also work with private sector partners and Congress.”

The fight against online crime and privacy violations, she said, is a fight the government cannot win alone.

Beyond the new unit’s private partner outreach and public engagement missions, CCIPS team will simultaneously strive to ensure that cyber-legislation is shaped to most effectively protect networks and victims from attacks.

As an example of the sorts of outreach the Cybersecurity Unit will be involved in, Caldwell explained that earlier this year telecom providers were uncertain about the Electronic Communication Privacy Act’s restrictions on cyber-threat-related information sharing. This uncertainty, she claimed, limited the lawful sharing of information that could better protect networks from cyber threats. So CSIPS released a white paper in May examining the legality of information-sharing practices, explicitly stating that the sorts of information sharing those companies were being encouraged to take part in were completely legal.

*Image via Wikimedia Commons user Sembol; licensed under Creative Commons

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