New Government Plan to Spy on Americans

By | March 2, 2008

I’ve been saying it for years: What they really want is to make it a crime to know about their crimes.

A new Bush administration plan to capture and analyze traffic on all federal government networks in real time is generating privacy worries from congressional Democrats and Republicans alike.


At a hearing convened here Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, politicians directed pointed questions to Department of Homeland Security officials about their plans to expand an existing “intrusion detection” system known as Einstein. Among other things, the system will monitor visits from Americans–and foreigners–visiting .gov Web sites.

Einstein, which DHS calls an “early warning system” for cyber-incidents, is described in a Homeland Security document from September 2004 as “an automated process for collecting, correlating, analyzing, and sharing computer security information across the federal civilian government.” It’s still only in place at 15 federal agencies, but Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff requesting $293.5 million from Congress in next year’s budget to roll it out government-wide.

The round-the-clock system captures traffic flow data, which currently includes source and destination IP addresses and ports, Internet Control Message Protocol data, and the length of data packets. According to an internal 2004 privacy impact assessment (PDF), “the program is not intended to collect information that will be retrieved by name or personal identifier.” Members of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, which coordinates federal responses to cyber attacks, analyze the downloaded records once per day in hopes of detecting worms and other “anomalous activity,” pinpointing trends, and advising agencies on how best to configure their systems.

Homeland Security says the setup has helped reduce the time it takes for agencies to share such data from four to five days to four to five hours. The next step is to hire more analysts and enable the analysis to occur in real time, DHS says.

Beyond that, it’s not exactly clear what will change, including whether the system will gather more information than before, or what will be done with it. But some politicians said they’re already apprehensive about the new plans.

“I encourage you to try to find something beyond Einstein that’s going to be focusing on bad guys, not just focusing on the general public but finding some way to protect the privacy of American citizens,” said Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.).

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) criticized the department on one hand for treating cyber threats with sufficient urgency–a common refrain from members of both parties ever since the sprawling government agency’s inception. But she also questioned the new approach being offered.

“I can assure you constituents of mine listening to this hearing are thinking about this as the government sets up a new spy network,” she said. “What would you advise me to tell my constituents (who want to know) how I’m going to stop this latest government spy network?”

Heck, why not just put a microchip in everyone that records everything we see, hear, touch, taste and think? That probably wouldn’t be enough to “protect” us, so we’d also need government cameras in every room, every car, every where. But that wouldn’t be enough to protect us, so we’d need the upgrade chip that allows the government to take control of our brains. But don’t worry, they wouldn’t make you into a full time slave. They would only cause a person to go into remote control mode if there was a real threat to safet, or some in times of testing, like during elections.

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