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US chief spook pushes electronic dragnet policy

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US cyber-security policies may give US intelligence agencies access to any email, file transfer or web search.

The proposals from National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, which have entered into a draft of US Cyber-Security Policy, would legitimise data trawling on a scale that would make the current controversy about warrantless wiretapping seem like much ado about nothing.

McConnell, a 65-year-old former admiral appointed as administrative overlord to US spy agencies by President Bush in January 2007, reckons that a targeted attack on a US bank could have a greater financial impact than the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a profile in the New Yorker via The Raw Story.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson reportedly backed this cyber-Pearl Harbor assessment in a briefing with Bush. Following the briefing, President Bush authorised McConnell to come up with a network security strategy. McConnell's proposals including reducing the number of gateways between government computers and the internet from 2,000 to 50, as well as implementing a dragnet to monitor electronic traffic.

Intelligence agencies have long angled for this kind of surveillance ability. The infrastructure and computing power needed to tap into Americans' email and web search history may already exist. However a change of president, to say nothing of a Democratic Congress, may represent a block on such ambitions. The use of encryption technologies together with a judicial unwillingness - in the US if not the UK - to force punters to hand over encryption keys also poses a further potential block. ®

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