ACLU Detects Rotten Odor in Gov't. "Sniffer" Program

July 29, 1999 12:00 am


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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Clinton Administration plans to create a government-wide network for guarding the nation’s most important computer systems are alarming civil liberties groups, USA Today reported.

A 148-page proposal, released Wednesday, outlines plans to build a network of electronic obstacles, monitors and analyzers to watch for intrusion attempts on federal computer systems.

Called FIDNET, for Federal Intrusion Detection Network, the plan would use a “sniffer” or other automated device to log peculiar or suspicious activity within computer systems, such as unknown people accessing the system.

But civil liberties groups say that the security tools would make unprecedented electronic monitoring possible. This is especially so because of the government’s increasingly widespread use of computers in almost every aspect of its citizens daily lives.

Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that the technology allows monitors to capture not only signs of intrusion but message content as well.

The proposal was described within the report as Version 1.0 and it pledged that no proposal would “infringe on civil liberties, privacy rights or proprietary information.”

Steinhardt is not convinced. “Here we have yet another situation where the government is saying ‘trust us,'” he said. “From Watergate to Filegate, law enforcement agencies have a long and sordid history of abusing access to private information. We think there is every reason to be concerned about the potential abuse and authorized misuse of the FIDNET system.”

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