FBI nominee seeks cooperation in fighting cybercrime

Federal law enforcement agents need to work closely with state and local law officials to combat the increasing occurrence of cybercrime, President Bush's nominee to head the FBI told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. "It is critically important [that] we develop those relationships with the victims of high-tech crime in the high-tech industry," said Robert Mueller, who is on tap to be the next FBI director. "There are too few investigators with the skills we need to address this." Mueller, currently the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, pioneered a San Jose-based effort to coordinate efforts in the FBI and the Treasury Department's Customs Service to combat computer crime and intellectual property theft. It was dubbed the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) Unit. Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the creation of ten CHIPs throughout the country to prosecute such crimes. At the confirmation hearing, Mueller said that if he is confirmed, he will make sure the FBI supports the units. Utahan Orrin Hatch, the committee's ranking Republican, said he hopes enforcement of existing laws such as the No Electronic Theft Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act also become an FBI priority. On another issue, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., cited concern about some of the FBI's use of electronic recordings. Mueller said the establishment of an electronic, "paperless" database of interviews, fingerprints, pictures and other evidence could alleviate that concern, as well as concerns about the lack of transparency in the FBI's information-gathering process. "It is that type of combined enterprise we are going to have to adopt if we are to address this new wave of separate, technological crime in the future," Mueller said. Mueller also said the agency's infrastructure must be rebuilt and its computer systems updated. "Every FBI agent needs to be computer literate" to understand how information technology can help him in his job, he added. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he wants the committee to have an ongoing dialogue with the FBI to keep the agency in check. He cited the agency's lack of adequate computer systems as a reason for its recent mishap. "[FBI agents] deserve better," Leahy said. "The FBI needs to join the 21st century." Arizonan Jon Kyl, the ranking Republican of the Judiciary Technology, Terrorism and Government Intervention Subcommittee, also urged reform at the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center and added that lawmakers should "pick up the pace" in modernizing laws to help the FBI track criminals at the speed that technology is improving. "The bad guys have better stuff than the FBI," Kyl said. "That can't be."
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