Clinton Admin goes out in a blaze of cyber-terror

Net crashing, zombies rising, sky falling, privacy assaulted, copyrights dying....

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Washington Roundup 2000 No Clinton Administration swan song would be complete without a heaping dose of cyber-crime FUD. We have not been disappointed. National Security Advisor Richard Clark and National Infrastructure Protection Centre (NIPC) Director Michael Vatis are clanging the cymbals again, warning that this year's New Year's cyber attacks might be even more devastating than last year's New Year's cyber attacks.

You remember last year's New Year's cyber attacks, right?

Right. Neither do we. But this time the sky really is falling, we are assured. Apparently, a vast number of personal computers have been turned into "zombies" (clients) for the Mother of all DDoS attacks, expected to commence New Year's Eve.

We think the only real "zombies" plugged into the Net are the living dead who would believe this drivel.

But wait, there's more. Organised crime syndicates are involving themselves heavily in intellectual property theft, making it "costlier and more dangerous than ever," US Attorney General Janet Reno writes in a Christmas Day letter

recently posted

on the Department of Justice (DoJ) Web site.

The heavyweight international bad guys are using profits from pirated digital goods to "facilitate a variety of enterprises, including guns, drugs, pornography and even terrorism."

And this, we are told, is the fault of that damned Internet, which "while promoting knowledge-based industries and commerce, also makes it easier to steal, produce and distribute merchandise such as software, music, films, books and games. With the click of a mouse, identical copies can be reproduced and transferred immediately, cheaply, surreptitiously and repeatedly."

"These trends will continue unless law enforcement and rights holders recognize that the threat crosses national borders -- and resolve to work collectively to defeat the increasingly organized efforts of the perpetrators," she warns.

Fortunately the DoJ received extra funds from Congress for FY 2001 to strut further onto the digital beat and protect us from what, by their account, anyway, sounds like a real catastrophe in the making. This includes $30.5 million for Digital Storm, an FBI programme upgrading old-fashioned analogue signals collection gear with slick new digital stuff; $100 million for an overall FBI technology upgrade called the Information Sharing Initiative; and $25 million for DoJ grants to local law-enforcement bodies so they might better investigate and prosecute network intrusions, virus spreading and other digital crimes.

Aaahhh... We feel safer already.

Meanwhile the 106th Congress, in its virtually endless lame-duck session, has managed to dodge just about every bit of Internet-related legislation currently pending. Which is a good thing, since the vast majority of it was pure rubbish. What little did squeak through wasn't bad at all, with a single, awful exception.

The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), sadly, passed both Chambers and was signed by the Gigolo-in-Chief. Sponsored by US Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and US Representative Ernest Istook (Republican, Oklahoma), the Act imposes federally-mandated Internet filtering requirements on public schools and libraries which accept money from Uncle Sam. Naughty pictures and blue prose are to be rendered inaccessible to tender sprouts, and failure to comply results in the money spigot being shut off.

Almost all pending privacy legislation stalled, and again, this is nothing to cry about since a lot of it was shot full of fat loopholes for the data-mining industry's benefit. One notable and quite nice victory was US Senator Richard Shelby's (Republican, Alabama) amendment to the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), which now forbids states from disclosing the contents of their vast databases to commercial buyers without the express prior consent of the individuals concerned. Yeah, that spells 'opt-in'. We were amazed too.

A particularly loathsome piece of feelgood privacy legislation sponsored by US Senator Judd Greg (Republican, New Hampshire), which would have accommodated data miners while cynically commemorating a young New Hampshire woman brutally shot dead by a deranged stalker who got her details from an on-line broker, mercifully, stalled.

The Centre for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has a good summary of pending privacy legislation posted here.

Regrettably, suspected cyber-criminals will be subject to looser federal property forfeiture and wiretapping restrictions thanks to the benignly-named Public Safety Medal of Valour (HR-46) amendment, which did pass. On the plus side, far more sweeping legislation (S-2448) much desired by the Clinton Administration and especially by Janet Reno's DoJ, and introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah) and Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat, New York), didn't make it through.

One rotten little legislative Trojan horse (HR-3048) did pass, giving the US Secret Service power to issue an administrative subpoena to investigate threats against sitting and former US presidents or their families. An administrative subpoena requires an 'information custodian' (such as an ISP) to cough up records without a judge's approval and without notifying the suspect that his information is in the hands of the Feds.

The administrative subpoena is the weapon of the moment in Washington, well promoted by the Clinton Administration and used pretty much wherever it's not expressly forbidden; but it's also finding its way into a good deal of proposed crime legislation. While we have now a limited official green-light for its use, we can expect to see continued efforts to insert it into law as an express law-enforcement right. Unless, of course, people raise hell about it.

We are, as our beloved readers might imagine, tremendously eager to return to our primary beat on Capitol Hill as the 107th Congress convenes, to take its measure, and to compare its IT-related madness with that of the big-talking, do-nothing 106th. As we anticipate an acutely lame-duck White House, and observe a very narrow partisan split in both Chambers, we are prepared for an even greater ratio of rhetorical flatulence to action than the perennially entertaining outgoing class gave us.

Of course we're equally prepared to be pleasantly surprised. We just can't recall the last time that happened in this incomparably goofy town, and seat of unmatched global influence. ®

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