Washington State Gets Tough on Cybercrime

Keeping with its reputation for being tough on cybercrime, the State of Washington launched three initiatives last week designed to help law enforcement officials combat illegal Internet activities.

The efforts include a partnership of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, an online clearinghouse that will help people avoid online fraud and crime, and a strike team that will focus on high-tech crime.

“Washington is a national leader in high technology. It’s only natural that our state be similarly innovative in fighting crime or resolving consumer issues,” said state Attorney General Christine Gregoire.

Getting a “CLEW”

The Computer Law Enforcement of Washington initiative — or CLEW — will provide around-the-clock law enforcement response to high-tech crime complaints, and share expertise, resources and training.

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Washington State Patrol, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys are all participating.

“The Internet, which holds so much promise for e-commerce, entertainment and research, also has a dark side inhabited by child molesters, con men, and hate mongers,” said Gregoire.

Crossing the Line

One of the problems facing law enforcement agencies is that cybercrime often cuts across geographic boundaries, making the crimes difficult to track. Gregoire anticipates that the CLEW partnership will expand law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute online crime.

The organization also intends to generate funding for a computer forensics lab and to suggest legislation that will provide better tools for prosecuting Internet crime.

Kate Pflaumer, U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, said, “The Internet does not recognize state or even national political boundaries, so cooperation between law enforcement is imperative. It is our goal to make this state an unsafe place to commit crime over the Internet.”

High-Tech Strike Team

The Attorney General’s Office has also formed a new high tech strike team of attorneys and investigators who will focus solely on Internet-related crime. The unit will prosecute consumer protection and criminal cases and provide expertise to local law enforcement on Internet crime.

The unit is developing a mediation program where consumers and businesses can attempt to resolve conflicts online.

Additionally, the Attorney General’s Office is teaming with the University of Washington to launch an online Cyber Clearinghouse to help people avoid online fraud and crime. The site will provide information on consumer and criminal justice issues.

Washington Takes the Case

Earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, Washington brought charges against a man accused of defrauding online auction buyers across the country of $15,000 (US$).

A Georgia couple had gathered information on the alleged cybercrook and tried to interest various law enforcement agencies in the case, but were turned down by all except the Seattle U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Auction swindles, which the Washington, D.C.-based National Consumers League says accounts for 87 percent of all Internet fraud, often go unreported because authorities are unsure who has jurisdiction over the case.

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