The fight against cyber terrorism, child pornography and racism on the internet is topping the agenda at an international conference in Strasbourg.
Swiss officials attending the Council of Europe meeting say an international convention on cybercrime will help countries to improve policing of the web.
The council’s Cybercrime Convention is billed as the first international text to tackle criminal acts on the internet.
It is the product of four years of work by Council of Europe members, in cooperation with countries including the United States, Canada and Japan.
The treaty – which came into force in July - has already been signed by more than 30 states, including Switzerland. But it has been ratified by only seven countries. The Swiss parliament has yet to debate ratification of the convention.
Conference organisers hope to encourage European and non-European states to sign and ratify the treaty as soon as possible.
Eva Bollmann, an analyst at the Swiss Coordination Unit for Cybercrime Control (Cyco), is representing Switzerland at the conference.
“This treaty deals with issues like child pornography and fraud,” Bollmann told swissinfo.
“Its main objective is to pursue a common policy aimed at protecting society against cybercrime,” she added.
Bollmann said she expected the convention to become an “important instrument” by giving signatory states the right to seek mutual assistance in cases of computer-related crime.
But she warned that it could be some time before Switzerland ratifies the convention.
“Parliament has not yet discussed the issue… and even if it is passed, a nationwide vote on whether to accept ratification could be forced.”
More than 180 delegates from the private sector, government and police departments are attending the three-day meeting at the Council of Europe’s headquarters.
In a statement ahead of Wednesday’s opening ceremony, officials in Strasbourg said international action was urgently needed to stop criminals from creating “networks that are [becoming increasingly] harder for the police to track”.
“The aim is to draw attention at the highest political level to the fact that the fight against cybercrime should be strengthened, as computer-dependent societies become increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks.”
The Swiss authorities took steps last year to tackle the growing problem of cybercrime by setting up a special bureau dedicated to policing the internet.
Since it was established at the beginning of 2003, Cyco has investigated hundreds of complaints related to the contents of websites.
The cybercrime unit employs eight analysts who monitor suspicious sites, check them for links or references to Switzerland, and determine whether there is a case for prosecution.
In the first half of 2004, more than 300 dossiers of evidence – most of them concerning child pornography - were handed over to the relevant cantonal authorities for further investigation.
But Bollmann says the fight against cybercrime in Switzerland cannot be won without international assistance.
“To fight effectively against internet crime, we have to exchange know-how about the latest technologies with other countries. We’re facing a global problem… so it’s important to work closely with other cybercrime units [around the world].”
swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh
The Swiss Coordination Unit for Cybercrime Control (Cyco) was established in January 2003.
Staff at the unit follow up on complaints filed by the public and monitor suspicious sites.
Most of the 300 dossiers of evidence forwarded by Cyco employees to the relevant cantonal authorities during the first half of 2004 concerned child pornography.