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The US government is assembling a plan to get ISPs involved in building the most comprehensive Net surveillance system yet created.

The idea is put forward in the final version of a report called The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace due to be released early next year, according to the New York Times (free reg req'd).

The report, prepared by the Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, establishes a blueprint for the new Department of Homeland Security and provides for government and private sector cooperation in defending the Net against all forms of attack.

Alarm bells among privacy activists have been triggered by talk of a centralised system for monitoring the Internet in defence against the supposed threats of cyber terrorism as well as more mundane risks, such as computer viruses. The government wants a lead role in running these operations and a capability for real time surveillance of Net traffic.

Details about how the system would work - or how much it would cost - remain vague but the scope of the scheme seems far more wide-ranging the Carnivore, the controversial FBI-run keyword monitoring system. What is planned looks more like the measures introduced by the UK Government Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, only applied to the whole Internet (or at least all the portions under US control).

Tiffany Olson, the deputy chief of staff for the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said that proposals were still in development. Firmly pencilled in, however, are plans for a centralised, large-scale, government controlled operations centre to provide early warning on cyber attacks. This is needed because ISPs only have a partial view of the Internet, Olson argued.

"We don't have anybody that is able to look at the entire picture," she told the NY Times. "When something is happening, we don't know it's happening until it's too late."

The NY Times cites concerns that the proposals blur the line between broad monitoring of the entire population and targeted wiretaps. The Bush Administration is keen to play down Big Brother fears but its suggestion that methods will not involve "monitoring at an individual user level" is unconvincing. ®

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