Monday, January 21, 2008

Spy Chief Wants Full Access To Internet

US Intel Chief Wants Carte Blanche To Peep All 'Net Traffic
By Julian Sanchez
Ars Technica

In a long profile published by The New Yorker this week (not yet online, but there's an audio interview with the profile's author at The New Yorker's site), Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell discusses a plan in the works to dramatically expand online surveillance. As The Wall Street Journal sums it up, "in order to accomplish his plan, the government must have the ability to read all the information crossing the Internet in the United States in order to protect it from abuse."

How broad are the powers needed to keep our servers safe? According to the article, in order for cyberspace to be policed, Internet activity will have to be closely monitored. Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer, or Web search. "Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation," he said.

It is also worth wondering why such extensive authority is supposed to be necessary. Google may indeed "have records that could help in a cyber-investigation." So might a suspect's employer or school; we typically manage to acquire those records by means of warrants.

The claim that "cyber-security" demands handing over such expansive authority looks like similar overreach. On the prevention side, it is not clear why the NSA is better equipped to handle attacks than the large financial institutions terrorists would target, which surely have ample incentive and adequate resources to secure their networks. And law enforcement has thus far been managing to conduct investigation into and prosecution of computer crime under existing rules.

Even members of Congress don't appear to be getting a much more adequate explanation of which powers will be necessary for which reasons. The Journal cites Congressional aides reporting that legislators had learned more from media reports than from secret briefings on the initiative.

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