Editorial: How to fight crime online in Michigan

The Detroit News

The Michigan State Police have battled cybercrime since the 1990s. And now, along with Gov. Rick Snyder's initiative to improve the state's criminal justice system, the State Police have organized a task force to help fight cybercrime and deal with virus attacks on computer networks. This is a worthwhile effort to improve the safety of the Internet.

The State Police are also working with the Michigan Supreme Court to pilot a cybercrime court, which would coordinate resources and make it easier to prosecute cybercrimes if either the victim or the suspect was in the state.

These changes would require legislation, including an amendment to the state's Freedom of Information Act, which grants the public access to many government documents.

Law enforcement want to protect companies and individuals who have been victims of cyberattacks, explains Inspector Matt Bolger of the Michigan State Police. He says over the past year, the Michigan Cyber Command Center was formed, consisting of the State Police, the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The goal is to prevent or minimize the damage caused by hackers. Bolger says this is best done through the sharing of information on a suspected cyberattack among the center, local governments and law enforcement as well as private businesses. But to get the private sector involved, anonymity is needed because a business could be harmed if its identity was made public.

"We want companies to come to us and help us identify (cyberattacks) and inform others," Bolger says. "Companies are hesitant to share their troubles because they don't want to be wrongly identified."

Legislation in the House would allow law enforcement to keep the identity of a business anonymous.

Complicating the situation, though, is that the bill not only discusses cybercrime anonymity but also includes infrastructure security—a completely different topic but one that also requires an amendment to the FOIA. The legislation would prevent public access to information that reveals the location of main energy pipelines, sub-stations, etc. The concern is that an individual or group, with the right information, could disrupt service to large areas.

Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, a sponsor of the legislation, says he understands the necessity of balancing public safety with the public's right to know in any FOIA amendment. Any limits on government transparency should be carefully studied, and be very narrow in their focus.

The proposed legislation seems to have the right intent, and the Legislature should work with the State Police and Supreme Court to create these extra protections against cybercrimes.