Computer Monitoring

August 10, 1999

The federal government is developing a plan for a system to monitor U.S. computer activities against intruders, but civil liberties groups believe that this will be just one more example of government invasion of citizens' privacy.

White House national security adviser Sandy Berger said "the plan is an outgrowth of a presidential order to examine the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to outside disruption and terrorism." He said what is needed is an "intrusion detection system" for federal government computers such as the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Aviation Administration. The Defense department already has such a system.

A draft of the plan has been leaked to the media and apparently calls for developing networks of thousands of software monitoring programs that would constantly track computers looking for indications of computer network intrusions and other illegal acts. The FBI would oversee the project.

A representative from the ACLU says, "It will give the government the capacity to monitor electronic communications and data transfer. Apparently we are to be reassured by the statement that, ‘We are the government, trust us.' I don't think most Americans find that very reassuring."

House Majority Leader Dick Armey wrote a letter to the president that essentially said, "Stay Out of My Inbox." He believes that "What we really need is protection from government Peeping Toms."

In the current climate of terrorism and espionage, we should be concerned about protecting national security. But the proposed plan raises concerns about citizen privacy and governmental intervention into our lives. Let's not forget that President Nixon used the National Crime Information Center computer system to track Vietnam war opponents. The potential for abuse is even greater as we move into the 21st century.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.