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White House recommends more on-line snooping

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Surveillance of citizens suspected of computer crimes such as malicious hacking must be made easier for federal law enforcement agents, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said during a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, echoing a familiar Clinton Administration demand once again.

If the Clintonites get their way, blanket trap and trace orders will be permitted without prior approval by a court during an 'emergency', such as when a computer is under attack, Podesta said.

To mitigate the Orwellian atmosphere of Bill Clinton's and Janet Reno's unhealthy obsession with snooping on US citizens, Podesta said that federal and state judges would independently review the factual basis for issuing such orders in 'normal' circumstances.

The White House proposal which Podesta was touting to the press would also simplify jurisdictional niceties so that only one such order would be needed to trace a call or an Internet session back to its source through multiple carriers across state lines.

Podesta also proposed that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act be 'strengthened' to exploit a fuller range of damages which can be said to have resulted from computer attacks. Multiple small attacks should be treated as one large attack, Podesta said, so that on-line evildoers won't escape federal prosecution in cases where none in a series of small, nuisance attacks causes sufficient damage to trigger federal law enforcement involvement.

By way of enlarging on that theme, the ever-increasing sphere of influence for federal prosecutors should be extended further to give them jurisdiction over juvenile offenders in 'serious' cases of computer mischief, Podestra advised.

To further maximise opportunities for satisfying convictions, Podesta reckoned that mandatory jail time should be eliminated for minor copmuter attacks which might otherwise go unpunished when a judge weighs the hefty sentence required against the crime's triviality.

Podesta also recommended that the standards for intercepting electronic, wire, and cable communications be harmonised with the current regulations for intercepting telephone calls.

Current regulations under which federal law enforcement can intercept private communications vary for e-mail, a phone calls and a cable modems. In this instance the result might be a bit less government monitoring of private e-mail messages, which at the moment requires a lower legal standard than monitoring a telephone conversation. (You are using PGP religiously, right readers?)

Meanwhile, the White House would like to see increased penalties for violations of US wiretapping laws, thereby giving the Feds the undisputed monopoly on snooping, and another weapon which can potentially be used against the dreaded malicious hackers, whose activities might at times be construed as the illegal interception of communications.

The entire proposal was packaged under the benign heading of assuring public trust in cyberspace, another White House obsession. Bill Clinton is convinced that the Internet is the golden goose of his tenure as President, and there is little he would not do to individual civil liberties in his eagerness protect it from disruption by those who fail to appreciate its economic implications as he does.

In time the US federal government will become a model on-line citizen, Podesta promised, by continuing to make itself a veritable paragon of information security and privacy practices.

Fair enough, but we wonder what 'model citizen' would tap the phones and read the mail of its neighbours with half the relish displayed by the Clinton Administration and Reno DoJ. ®

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