Massive computer security program threatens our liberty and privacy : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Massive Computer Security Program Threatens Our Liberty and Privacy Friday, January 28, 2000

By ROBYN E. BLUMNER St. Petersburg Times

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. --When President Clinton announced his plan earlier this month to spend $2 billion to implement a massive cybersecurity program, the nation collectively yawned. Few newspapers thought it even momentous enough to editorialize on.

But we ignore this initiative at our own peril. There are knowledgeable voices who say Clinton's computer infrastructure protection plan will be the further undoing of our liberty and privacy.

The program touts itself as "Version 1.0" with future developments to come, but even as a first step it is clear the ultimate goal is to expand government surveillance of the computing public and influence the development of the private sector's computer security systems.

The administration justifies its plan, with its huge expenditures and the creation of a new bureaucratic security establishment, by warning that: "The most vital sectors of our economy -- power generation, telecommunications, banking and finance, transportation and emergency services -- are potentially susceptible to disruptions from hackers, terrorists, criminals or nation states." But these fears are overblown at best. According to the watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center, the fears are also being fed by the National Security Agency, which is the secretive arm of the Defense Department. The NSA has convinced the administration that an "electronic Pearl Harbor" could happen at any time -- a notion some computer experts call "more Hollywood than hard fact."

To defend against this eventuality, the plan gives the FBI along with the national security apparatus and the intelligence community a large preventive role, uncomfortably blurring the line between the military and domestic law enforcement. James Dempsey, senior staff counsel for the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, says under the plan, "the philosophy, equipment and personnel of the military is being evoked domestically."

A big piece of this program is the Federal Intrusion Detection Network, or FIDNet, a monitoring system in which thousands of computer software programs keep a constant watch on computer networks looking for odd behaviors. The administration calls it a kind of computer burglar alarm system.

When information on FIDNet was initially leaked last year, enough concern was raised about its Big Brother potential that the administration beat a hasty retreat. Well, it's back, just somewhat repackaged. Rather than housed at the FBI, FIDNet's home will be the General Services Administration, and the constant monitoring will occur only on government computers, not sensitive private sector computers as originally contemplated.

Yet, even with the changes, significant privacy questions remain about such a monster surveillance program. Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union, raises concerns about the ability of Americans to access government information without disclosing their identity: "You ought to be able to go to the Web site of the Internal Revenue Service or Commerce Department and get information on an anonymous basis without being tracked." Dempsey says the system will operate as one huge profiling program, raising flags when someone's on-line behavior is deemed suspicious.

Then there's the part of the infrastructure protection program that involves the private sector. Since a significant part of what the Clinton plan identifies as critical infrastructure is owned and operated by private corporations -- mass communications, energy, banking and finance, etc. -- the plan encourages these businesses to share information on their computer security operations. Steinhardt says the government will pressure private businesses to "pull their punches" on privacy. Rather than develop strong systems of customer privacy that even the government can't breach, Steinhardt warns that business will be pressured to "build back doors into technology" so the government can more easily watch for suspicious activity.

While Clinton pays lip service to privacy concerns -- he announced the initiative by saying "it is essential that we do not undermine liberty in the name of liberty" -- his administration has a shameful track record of protecting the privacy of Americans. Under Clinton's watch, the use of roving wiretaps has been approved, a huge worker database was established to track the movements of every employee in the country and the telecommunications industry was forced to retrofit its systems to give the FBI and law enforcement the opportunity to listen in.

There is no reason to trust that the administration has suddenly been converted. For Clinton, a speculative menace has always been enough to trump real civil liberties. This time will be no different, but the mere size of the endeavor makes this threat to privacy that much greater.

-- Homer Beanfang (, January 28, 2000


Bill Clinton's idea of liberty is a southbound zipper.

-- Will continue (, January 28, 2000.

Read the earlier thread RE: Koskinen(Sorry, I can't get it to link).

In the article:

As for the $50 million Information Coordination Center (ICC) that housed the government's Y2K monitoring efforts, Koskinen said the administration will wait until March 1 to announce what - if any - function the center will serve in the future. Reported by

Well Mr. Beanfang, what do you think about a $50 million monitoring facility for the new Security System?

Curious as always.

-- Just Curious (, January 28, 2000.

Who do You think rams all these Ideas down our elected Throats???These Guys in our Government are being terrorized by the Corporate Criminals,supported by the Retards that are spouting off about the "Liberals".

-- Liberator (Feeding@the, January 28, 2000.

Sorry to see the .gov perceive joe sixpack as "the enemy", and give weapons systems to our new "friends" in China.

-- Hokie (, January 28, 2000.

Hokie: You are correct - Joe Sixpack gets the raw deal while Gore is out granting money to the Russians for bio-weapons research - And now Clinton wants to spy on us - Should we not spy on them?

-- Bob (, January 28, 2000.

"build back doors into technology" so the government can more easily watch for suspicious activity."

If law inforcement would stick to chasing down the real bad guys (we'd have fewer politicians in circ.) instead of harassing citizens who just want a little privacy and freedom they wouldn't have a need to sneak around in their paranoia peering into peoples lives.

Can't have anyone smoking a joint.

Owning a shotgun shorter than Federally correct.

Isolating oneself in their (Waco compound) home.

Owning and carrying more than $10,000 through an airport.


-- Mark Hillyard (, January 29, 2000.

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