Re: Utopia - just in time.

J. R. Molloy (
Wed, 25 Aug 1999 10:02:48 -0700

It sounds like you have acquired valuable experience, Phil, vis a vis the sociological aspects of (real) emergent SI.

As for, the following repost from the virtropy list may interest you:

Forget the conspiracy movies. It's happening in real life now. The Clinton Administration wants the right to break into your home and install a
"listening device" on your computer. Of course, they promise not to abuse
the privilege. (Right. Sure. Uh-huh.) Forget the Melissa virus. Forget Y2K. This may be the scariest computer threat of the year.

Now *You* Are an Enemy of the State!
DOJ Seeks Right to Spy on Your Computer

By Jesse Berst

In "Enemy of the State," actor Will Smith plays an ordinary lawyer accidentally caught in a murder conspiracy. His life is destroyed when government agents track and trace him using cutting edge electronics. Now the government wants permission to do such things for real.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Justice wants the right to break into your home and (without your knowledge) disable the security precautions on your computer. Then it can track and trace everything you do. Click for more.

Right now, the effort exists as draft legislation for a "Cyberspace Electronic Security Act." In essence, it extends the concept of hidden listening devices (a legal but rarely used surveillance technique) to computers.

There's no question we need a strong, capable Justice Department. And there's no question computers have made it easier for criminals to elude law enforcement. If we don't find ways to protect society against computer-aided crime, we're all in trouble.

On the other hand, giving the government the right to spy on ordinary citizens is a terrifying thought. We'd have to be convinced that every single government official is a sincere, ethical individual who would never step over the boundaries, no matter what the temptation.

I don't know your opinion of politicians and bureaucrats, but -- from the President on down -- withstanding temptation doesn't seem to be their strong suit.

As much as I want to see drug traffickers caught... child pornographers put away... white collar criminals brought to justice... I can't bring myself to support this idea. Trade groups and civil libertarians are already raising a ruckus. Click for more. I'm on their side, this time.

If the government succeeds, by this time next year you may not need to vote in polls. Or send letters to the editor. The government may already have your email. May already know what you're thinking. Whether you like it or not.

For text of the DOJ proposal:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Justice Department is seeking new powers to break into private premises and disable security precautions on personal computers as a prelude to a wiretap or further search, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

The department wanted to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to get search warrants that would let them monitor suspects' computerized records after break-ins, said the paper, citing documents and interviews with Clinton administration officials.

"In a request set to go to Capitol Hill, Justice officials will ask
lawmakers to authorize covert action in response to the growing use of software programs that encrypt, or scramble, computer files," the report said. Such encryption makes computers inaccessible to anyone who lacks a special code or "key."

Justice officials worry that such software "is increasingly used as a means to facilitate criminal activity, such as drug trafficking, terrorism, white-collar crime and the distribution of child pornography," the Post quoted an Aug. 4 memo by the department as saying.

Under the proposed "Cyberspace Electronic Security Act," investigators armed with a sealed warrant could comb computers for passwords and install devices that override encryption programs, the Post reported, citing the Justice memo.

To pull information from a targeted computer, agents would still be required to get additional authorization from a court, the paper said.

Remember the last PCs monitoring attempt? Justice officials were not immediately available for comment. The proposal is the latest in a years-long tug-of-war between the government and computer users who want to protect their privacy by encrypting documents.

While Justice officials said their plan was consistent with constitutional principles, the idea alarmed civil libertarians and privacy advocates.

"They have taken the cyberspace issue and are using it as justification for
invading the home," said Jack Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology , an advocacy group in Washington that tracks privacy issues.

Stiff opposition expected
David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said in an e-mail early Friday that the proposal "strikes at the heart of the Bill of Rights."

DOJ can't spend on surveillance net
Surreptitious physical entries are relatively rare under existing surveillance laws. Such entries are made only to install hidden microphones, an investigative technique approved only 50 times by federal and state judges last year.

According to Sobel, "extending this extraordinary power to cases involving computer files would make police break-ins far more common than they are today."

The proposal followed unsuccessful efforts by FBI Director Louis Freeh and other Justice officials to secure laws requiring built-in "back doors" so investigators could pierce powerful encryption programs said to be a boon to criminals.