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Don't make cyberspace into a police state
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 04:35:47 -0600 (CST)
Forwarded from: Marjorie Simmons <lawyer () carpereslegalis com>
By Rob Fixmer, Interactive Week
October 29, 2001 5:14 AM PT
COMMENTARY-- America's next civil war will be fought on the Internet,
and the fundamental values in question will be the right to privacy
versus the need for national security.
Right now, that assertion might seem far-fetched. This is a time of
flag waving and patriotic fervor that ranges from genuine
statesmanship to banal jingoism. And that's as it should be. The war
against terrorism is not one of those morally ambiguous geopolitical
games we came to associate with the Cold War. The attacks of Sept. 11
were a manifest evil that threw our civilization and the rule of law
into a fight for survival. We win or we perish.
But as the war drags on, we're in for some sobering realizations. As
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned last week, the front line
is our front yard. For the first time in any American conflict, we can
expect more civilian casualties than military. As fear mounts,
winning this war is going to require adjustments to our social and
cultural values that would have seemed unimaginable just a few weeks
ago, but now seem inevitable-- most important among them are our
evolving expectations of privacy and individual rights.
The battle lines are forming rapidly.
Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI had hundreds of pages of
legislation ready for Congress--a cornucopia of surveillance tools and
investigative authority the bureau had been seeking for years and now
saw an opportunity to grab. Civil libertarians and conservatives
alike resist. In Congress, concern spans the political spectrum.
Jim Harper is editor of Privacilla.org, an advocacy Web site that
espouses a libertarian view of privacy. "We are on the brink of a
privacy 'Exxon Valdez,' " Harper warned. "The damage done to
Americans' privacy in the coming weeks could take generations to clean
Shari Steele is executive director of the civil liberties group
Electronic Frontier Foundation. "While it is obviously of vital
national importance to respond effectively to terrorism," she said,
"these bills recall the McCarthy era in the power they would give the
government to scrutinize the private lives of American citizens."
Signs of the battle are everywhere: Surveillance technologies have
been incorporated into new antiterrorism legislation.
Oracle's Larry Ellison has suggested that a national ID is both
desirable and inevitable. The FBI has made moves to subpoena data from
ISPs and to force manufacturers of routers and switches to embed
wire-tapping capabilities into their equipment.
"These are worrisome times," said Charlotte Twight, a lawyer and
professor of economics at Boise State University whose writings are
featured on the Cato Institute's Web site, and whose book, Dependent
on D.C.: The Rise of Federal Control Over the Lives of Ordinary
Americans, is due from St. Martin's Press in January.
She told me, "There are a lot of sweet-sounding names, like
'antiterrorism,' being slapped on new legislation that hide suspicious
provisions. The political reality that citizens are willing to draw
the line at a certain point has changed dramatically since Sept. 11."
Until now, Twight said, the process of working data surveillance into
the fabric of our lives has been incremental, almost invisible. In
her book, for example, she describes how the Social Security Act, part
of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, created an identification number
that has slowly, quietly evolved into a fulcrum for government data
collection about individuals. A simple retirement insurance scheme has
been transformed into a de facto national ID for all residents of the
More recent legislation, ranging from the Immigration and
Naturalization Act to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act (HIPAA), have sealed that trend. Today, thanks in
large part to the Internet, an individual's Social Security Number is
the common link among medical, education, labor and financial
databases, enabling government--and at times, prying eyes in the
private sector--to track, monitor and define us.
This flies in the face of all the Internet was supposed to represent.
Only yesterday, it seems, the global network of networks was being
portrayed as the technology that unleashed the individual and leveled
the playing field. Instead, it is quickly becoming the technology that
many now believe most imperils our individual autonomy.
This is not a direction we can afford to embrace blindly. We need to
protect our borders and our identities with equal vigilance. But if
Americans think they are being spied upon, by government or
businesses, as they make their way about the Net, as they send e-mail
to grandma, watch videos, buy personal gifts or build Web pages, we
will have turned cyberspace into a police state. In which case, we
might well win a battle against terrorism only to lose the war against
Marjorie Simmons, Esq.
lawyer () carpereslegalis com
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- Don't make cyberspace into a police state InfoSec News (Oct 31)