Jacking in from the Public Policy Port:
Washington, D.C. -- Get off your ass, Internaught, this is your chance to be heard. Take it now or keep quiet. Forever. During two days of hearings this week, members of the Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) will sit down with members of the public to talk about privacy issues along the inaptly named "information superhighway."
The sessions, Jan. 26-27, are sponsored by the Privacy Working Group of the IITF, set up by President Clinton to move the National Information Infrastructure from hysteria to something approaching usable. The meetings will be held (here's the catch) in Washington, at the Dept. of Commerce.
"We must manage through thoughtful policy debate the transition from a paper-based society to one where information flows freely across vast electronic networks," said Working Group chair Patricia Faley. "Our goal is to provide the guiding principles, and recommend any legislative and administrative actions necessary to protect privacy on the information superhighway."
Right. Pat, get a grip and take in a dose of reality.
First of all, there are government agencies at work, at this moment, seeking to implant the digital equivalent of tiny video cameras along your precious "information superhighway." The agency driving this effort is the super-secret National Security Agency(NSA). The NSA, tasked with spying on all kinds of conversations -- though not those of U.S. citizens -- wants to make sure the NII is built with, well, built-in bugging devices and they are laying the groundwork to see that this happens. The agency even has a cute name for the devices (chips, actually, which will descramble encrypted messages): Tessera.
For the uninformed, Tessera is a kissing cousin of the Clipper Chip, which is the White House answer to "rouge encryption" (read: private sector, encryption the NSA can't break, code). Clipper and its brother, Skipjack have been soundly trashed by computer security experts and privacy advocates. (You know, to me this all has taken on a sort of biblical quality: DES begat Clipper which begat Skipjack which bore a daughter, Tessera...)
In case you missed it last April, when Clipper was announced, it was joint NSA, National Institute for Standards and Technology and Commerce Dept. plan. And now we have Commerce putting on a privacy workshop. You do the math.
Conspiracy you say? Hardly. This reporter has been told by a highly placed White House source that the Administration is set to unveil a major announcement on its encryption policy "any day now." Stay tuned, Dispatch will tell you all about the "bugging of the information highway" in subsequent reports. You think I'm joking? Think again.
These open policy meeting by the Privacy Working Group, while well-intentioned, are, I'm afraid, smokescreens. They are set to examine privacy issues affecting law enforcement, financial services, public records, information technology, direct marketing, research records, telecommunications and fair information practices. A heady agenda. I'm sure they'll cover all theses issues, whether any positive actions comes of it? I don't know.
If you need any reminder whose side the government is on, please check out Vice President Gore's speech in L.A. (see the previous Dispatch article on this). In that speech, buried deep among the platitudes, Gore vowed the Administration would ensure that the information superhighway would be used to "help thwart criminals." Tell us, Al, just how do you propose to do that? Nobody, I mean, nobody knows. Yet... but we'll find out soon.
Among those expected to speak -- the IITF press release actually says "testify" are: David Burnham, author of "Rise of the Computer State"; James Settle, FBI National Computer Crime Squad; Diane Bowers, Council of American Survey Research Organizations; Art Sackler, Time Warner; John Baker, Equifax; Ed Young, Bell Atlantic; Debra Berlyn, National Assn. of State Utility Consumer Advocates.
The IITF says the public is welcome to attend "question speakers and make brief comments." Oh yeah, don't worry if you can't attend, the Working Group is accepting "concise written statements" for the record. You can send these to "Privacy," USOCA, 1620 L St. NW, Washington, DC, 20036 or fax them to 202-634-4135.
But if you want to use that shit-hot technology called the Internet, well, damn... looks like you're out of luck: The Working Group doesn't give an Email address or even reference the fact that anyone, anywhere, on their task force is reachable via the Internet. And cynics have decried the concept of the information highway as being full of potholes. That's bullshit. These are landmines.