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Underground Economy Conference - "Towards innovate solutions to meet the challenge of cybercrime"

Strasbourg , 

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is again my great pleasure to welcome you to the Underground Economy Conference here at the Council of Europe.

We are privileged to have such a wide range of expert knowledge to discuss the growing and evolving challenge that cybercrime poses.

Cyberattacks and data fraud and theft are now among the top five risks facing the private sector.

But it is only when we consider the numbers involved that we really appreciate the scale of the problem.

By one estimate, cybercrime is now worth 1.5 trillion dollars annually: if this sum was a country’s GDP, it would be the thirteenth richest in the world.

This is a staggering sum, but money cannot quantify the impact of cybercrime on individuals and even societies.

It is bad enough that individuals, businesses and other organisations can be the victims of financial theft online.

But cybercrime also includes offences that cause deep and personal anguish for its victims:

Consider for example, identity theft, threats and intimidation, and sexual violence, often involving children – many of which can have a financial motivation.

At the national level, our very way of life can be threatened by this phenomenon.

Cyberattacks on government departments and agencies have been a well-known danger for many years.

Added to this, we are now witnessing election interference too.

The malicious targeting of computers, data and technology undermines trust in electoral campaigns, process and outcomes, as do the disinformation campaigns which have come to public attention – especially since 2016.

There are gaps that must be addressed in terms of election procedures, computer systems and the security of campaigns.

And there must also be a greater emphasis on prosecuting such interference in order to deter its perpetrators.

Without such action, faith in our democratic practices will be put at risk.

All of this adds up to a bigger picture: one in which human rights, democracy and the rule of law are under threat.

These are the three pillars on which the Council of Europe stands – and this Underground Economy Conference is an excellent opportunity to share the ideas and best practice with which to defend them.

As many of you here today will know, our Organisation is already engaged with that task.

We are actively pursuing a criminal justice response – one that considers the challenges posed by electronic evidence.

Because we are clear that this is necessary to hold the line of justice in cyberspace as elsewhere – something that is in the interests of the victim and the suspect alike.

At the centre of our approach is the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, with 63 parties providing a reach well beyond Europe, and backed up by capacity building programmes including iPROCEEDS and other projects that are partners to this Conference.

And the Budapest Convention is not static; rather, it evolves in light of the challenges we face.

For example, this summer the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention Committee adopted a Guidance Note on Electoral Interference, which helps this treaty’s parties to apply the Convention’s provisions to computer-based electoral interference, including through international co-operation.

Work is also underway on a second additional protocol to the Convention.

This will further enhance governments’ capacity to co-operate, facilitating access to evidence that is currently trapped in the cloud, with a multi-stakeholder consultation on the good progress made – and what more can be done – to be held during the Octopus Conference on Cybercrime this November, here in Strasbourg.

You are all invited.

Because we are open to new ideas and innovative solutions that can be built into that additional protocol, strengthening its effectiveness, and preventing competencies from sliding into the national security arena, which can be undesirable from the human rights and rule of law perspective.

We are also looking for ways to ensure that the advance of Artificial Intelligence upholds our values, rather than works against them – including, of course, the fight against cybercrime.

The rapid progress of AI creates new means to commit crime; but equally, it can provide the systems that mitigate them.

And there is both the scope and need to address more broadly the ethical limits and criminal liability issues associated with Artificial Intelligence.

Our Committee of Ministers has already adopted a Declaration on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes;

The Council of Europe European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice, has adopted the European Ethical Charter on the use of artificial intelligence in judicial systems – the first international charter of its kind;

And our Steering Committee on Media and the Information Society is finalising a draft recommendation on the human rights impacts of algorithmic systems, guiding our member states on action to take, including in the areas of public information and opinion forming.

Significant progress.

But at our May Ministerial Session in Helsinki, Ministers accepted the recommendation of our Secretary General to go further still.

They agreed to examine the feasibility and potential elements of a legal framework that would ensure that AI is designed, developed and applied in line with European standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that work is now underway.

Ensuring that AI respects these fundamental values is one of the great challenges of the modern era, with a direct impact on cybercrime and the underground economy more broadly.

I know that it will feature in the conversations, ideas and debates at this event, and I hope that there will be a rich and fruitful exchange in this area as others.

After all, it is not realistic for criminal justice authorities to disrupt cybercrime on their own, much less when the challenge is amplified by the ever-faster evolution of technology.

Success will require the private sector, governments and international organisations working together.

I know that we can rise to the occasion.

This event is a case in point and I wish you all every success.