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The experience of the Cybercrime Office of the Portuguese Prosecution Service

1. Portugal ratified Budapest Convention in 2009, but had already adopted legislation on computer crime since 1991. There is thus some experience combating this type of criminality, within the Prosecution Service, particularly after 1994, when the first specialised section on computer crime was created (and specialised prosecutors where assigned), within the Lisbon District Department of Investigation and Prosecution.

However, the diffusion of computers and the Internet expanded, like never before, the cases where digital evidence is required, besides of the traditional cybercrime cases. Digital evidence can be crucial in many criminal investigations and nowadays, potentially, any prosecutor must handle cases referring to some sort of digital evidence. This enormous latitude in a new and difficult area has created the need to deepen and consolidate understandings about the legal issues, both in domestic laws and in international frameworks. In fact, it was felt that not all the prosecutors with criminal investigative functions were able to correctly understand how to obtain, gather and preserve this kind of evidence. Besides, recent and sometimes not completely consistent pieces of legislation have raised, within the prosecutors, different opinions, which in concrete cases have led to different practical solutions in similar cases.

2. Within this landscape it was raised the need of the creation of the Office for the Coordination of the Activities of the Prosecution Service on ​​Cybercrime – Cybercrime Office, directly dependent upon the General Prosecutor of the Republic. The office was created by Order of 7 December 2011 and aims to reach internal coordination within the Prosecution Service, in this area of ​​criminality, to develop specific training and good practices in concrete investigations and to establishment expedited communication channels, mainly with the private sector, in view of facilitating the cooperation with criminal investigations.

3. Coordination within the Prosecution means to adopt, at the national level, equal solutions to equal problems. Coordination requires knowledge of the real life and the real investigations on cybercrime. In view of that, the option was to establish a network of specialised prosecutors on cybercrime and on digital evidence, spread by all the territory. A network of almost 70 prosecutors was established, covering all the national territorial departments. Meetings where held, with training purposes and also with the objective of exchanging points of view, so as in tendency the same facts and situations are treated in a coordinated and consistent way by all the prosecutors. Aside, it was also foreseen the objective of having an overview of the effective reality of cybercrime in view of detecting trends, foresee probable developments and assess the effectiveness of the reaction. In general terms, the prosecutors strongly supported these meetings and welcomed the initiative.

4. Regarding training, it was felt the need of providing to the most enlarged number of prosecutors in the country basic knowledge on cybercrime and digital evidence. Training sessions were developed. Besides, advanced training was delivered to some of the contact points of the network and also to prosecutors in some of the specialised departments, handling cibercrime investigations.

5. It was recognised that modern criminal investigations require very often cooperation from private entities (for example Internet service providers). Such entities are the only owners of important information to many criminal investigations. Contacts were established with the major Portuguese Internet Service Providers, in view of rendering easier their collaboration with authorities. Expedited channels of communication were created and a cooperation Protocol was signed, in July 2012. Besides other objectives, this protocol established that all the requests from prosecutors to the providers should be made using a commonly adopted form. This agreement was seen as a good step forward, in the development of cooperation from the private sector with the prosecutors.

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