A Government that Cannot Secure Its Own Data Cannot be Trusted with Ours

Among the hundreds of thousands of State Department diplomatic cables that have been, or are soon to be released into the public domain via the Wikileaks "Cablegate" database, I happened to stumble across a noteworthy document that might go some way toward explaining how such a massive leak is possible in the first place.  As reported yesterday at Third Party and Independent Daily, in the run-up to Germany's 2009 general elections, American diplomats in Berlin worried that a strong showing by the Free Democratic Party might complicate US national security strategy and specific trans-national counter-terrorism efforts because the libertarian-leaning party is a strong defender of civil liberties and the individual right to data privacy.  From TPID:
The cable frames the FDP's support for citizens' privacy rights and individual liberties as a hindrance to US security strategy, and states that, if it were to join a ruling coalition in Germany, the party would scrutinize any proposals that would require sharing or accessing of information concerning private individuals.  The cable faults the party's "limited government viewpoint" for its opposition to data-sharing measures that would infringe on the privacy rights of individuals. 

In a most ironic turn, the leaked cable scoffs at FDP Parliamentarian Gisela Piltz, who cautioned against data-sharing operations with the US government on the grounds that the US government as a whole lacks effective data protection measures even as it accumulates massive amounts of data on innocent citizens. 
The author of the cable dismisses the parliamentarian's concerns that the United States lacks sufficient  data protection measures, and implies that German officials simply do not understand how effective US data protection policy really is.  Needless to say, the fact that this confidential cable is now in the public domain along with hundreds of thousands of documents just like it demonstrates how ineffective US data protection policy really is.  And Democrats and Republicans want us to believe that they can be trusted to collect and safeguard reams of data on us?   

The greater irony, however, is that this massive breach of information security was likely facilitated by efforts to increase information sharing between federal, state, and local government agencies and competing bureaucracies in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.  In other words, Democratic-Republican party policy consensus is ultimately responsible for this leak and data dump.  An article at the Guardian provides a fascinating look at SIPRNET, the supposedly secure network from which the hundreds of thousands of leaked diplomatic cables were likely accessed and relayed to the public domain:
Siprnet is itself an acronym, for Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. Siprnet was designed to solve the chronic problem of big bureaucracies – how to share information easily and confidentially among large numbers of people spread around the world. Siprnet is a worldwide US military internet system, kept separate from the ordinary civilian internet and run by the defence department in Washington.  Since the terrorist attacks of September 2001, there has been a move in the US to link up separate archives of government information, in the hope that key intelligence no longer gets trapped in information silos . . . 
Siprnet does not appear especially secure, given that millions of individuals worldwide may well have access to it.  In 1993 over 3 million people had clearances that would theoretically have allowed them to view its contents:
An increasing number of US embassies were plugged into Siprnet in the last decade, so that military and diplomatic information can be shared. In 2002, 125 embassies were on Siprnet; by 2005, there were 180. . . . From there it can be accessed not only by anyone in the state department, but also by anyone in the US military who has a computer connected to Siprnet. Millions of US soldiers and officials have "secret" security clearance. The US general accounting office identified 3,067,000 people cleared to "secret" and above in a 1993 study.
According to a CBS News report on Siprnet and information sharing from this past summer, "hundreds of thousands of people" have access to Siprnet.  (A columnist at Town Hall relates his own experience with the network, which he terms "the secret internet.")  Despite concerns about potential leaks, demands for access to Siprnet have only grown.  Last May, Next Gov reported that language buried in the 2011 Defense Authorization bill would require that every single committee in the US Congress have access to Siprnet.

Given the fact that one of the core functions of the Department of Homeland Security is to "foster information sharing," we should not be surprised if this non-transparent, sprawling and unaccountable bureaucracy is at least partially to blame for the massive holes in US data security measures.  We will wait in vain for any form of intellectually honest self-criticism from Democrats and Republicans on this issue. However, on the other side of the coin, the hysterical reaction to the most recent Wikileaks data dump on the part of Rep. Peter King, incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, demonstrates the extent to which the DHS bureaucracy represents a threat to fundamental liberties.  King wants Wikileaks to be labeled a "terrorist organization."  From CBS News:
Long Island Rep. Peter King told 1010 WINS the release of the information put “American lives at risk all over the world.”

“This is worse even than a physical attack on Americans, it’s worse than a military attack,” King said. King has written letters to both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for swift action to be taken against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

King wants Holder to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act and has also called on Clinton to determine whether WikiLeaks could be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Since Wikileaks does nothing more than publish information that is supplied to it by others, as I understand it, what King wants is the criminalization of liberties guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution, namely, the freedom of speech and of the press.  Perhaps this is only to be expected from a "warmongering fascist," as David Kramer describes King at Lew Rockwell.  But King is not alone among Republicans and Democrats in his contempt for rights, liberties and the rule of law.  We can save ourselves over $50 billion dollars a year by dissolving the Department of Homeland Security, depriving petty totalitarians in the Congress of yet another pedestal from which they can terrorize the people of the United States, and safeguard liberty in the process.  It would be a bargain.

1 comment:

AnarchyJack said...

The timing of the DDoS hacker attack on WikiLeaks, following strong protest from the White House is suspect, to say the least, but it's hardly surprising. The Duopoly has maintained its power by offering false choices in easily digestible, binary terms, but has never been averse to using the club when its carrot fails.

On the other hand, WikiLeaks is front page news, and the "attack" could be any number of things. As much credibility as the Fourth Estate has been imbued with, the media has never been above sensationalizing the facts. The denial of service could be from too many users accessing the server; it could be from hackers acting on their own to crash the site (likely, since it is a distributed denial of service); or it could even be a foreign power worried about an as yet, unreleased cable making its way into the media.

These are very sensitive documents to be sure, and the upshot could be more than simple embarrassment. For example, Arab Kings have expressed a desire for the U.S. to take aggressive action against Iran to keep it from obtaining nuclear weaponry. This is not exactly a popular sentiment among their Muslim subjects, who tend to feel more threatened by the U.S. and Israel than by Iran. It's also one that Arab leaders have avoided expressing publicly for this very reason.