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Operation Cyber-TIPS

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Congress has been working on legislation to create a militia composed of 'technology experts' who will manage the telecommunications infrastructure in times of national emergency.

The Senate bill passed last week emphasizes disaster response, not terror prevention, with such things as patching leaky government servers and databases, setting aside bandwidth and developing interoperable standards for emergency communications, and organizing local teams of geeks ready to lend a hand putting it all back together in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

All that sounds quite reasonable and the initial budget of $35 million refreshingly modest. But before we applaud, let's recall two things. First, most people in government actually expect some al-Qaeda kiddiot crew to fry the Internet with worms and ping floods one day; and second, we've seen a tremendous interest by the current administration in encouraging citizens to rat each other out for 'suspicious behavior'.

One example of this trend is the Department of Justice (DoJ) Operation TIPS, a pilot program establishing a snitch-network of workers eager to report on citizens. The postal service was originally solicited, but demurred.

So while there's no language in the bill referring to any sort of communications or Internet monitoring, we have to wonder if the agency about to be created might find ways of exerting pressure on volunteers to 'keep an eye on things'.

It seems plausible that volunteer geeks whom the agency deems trustworthy to rat and keep their mouths shut (consider the irony of trusting someone who squeals) might be in for a bit of gentle arm-twisting.

Both the Senate and the House have passed measures; the next step is to sort out the differences and portion out the pork in conference committee. The senate version is S-2037. The House version is included in its Homeland Security legislation.

On a related topic, we note that EFF Chairman Brad Templeton has just put up an ironic Web page where citizens can rat on TIPS rats in return. ®

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