The National Security Agency is launching a surveillance program
called "Perfect Citizen." The Wall Street Journal reports
that the program is designed to
"detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies
running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and
nuclear-power plants." One internal email within Raytheon, the private
contractor running Perfect Citizen, declared that"Perfect Citizen is Big
Brother." Is this an important tool in protecting vital U.S.
infrastructure from cyber attack or a step too far for the
ever-expanding surveillance state?
- Military and Intelligence
Defend Program The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman reports, "A
U.S. military official called the program long overdue and said any
intrusion into privacy is no greater than what the public already
endures from traffic cameras. It's a logical extension of the work
federal agencies have done in the past to protect physical attacks on
critical infrastructure that could sabotage the government or key parts
of the country, the official said. U.S. intelligence officials have
grown increasingly alarmed about what they believe to be Chinese and
Russian surveillance of computer systems that control the electric grid
and other U.S. infrastructure. Officials are unable to describe the full
scope of the problem, however, because they have had limited ability to
pull together all the private data."
- Why Congress Should Make
This Public Tech Liberation's Jim Harper explains, "If
there is to be a federal government role in securing the Internet from
cyberattacks, there is no good reason why its main components should not
be publicly known and openly debated. Small parts, like threat
signatures and such--the unique characteristics of new attacks--might be
appropriately kept secret, but no favor is done to any potential
attackers by revealing that there is a system for detecting their
activities. A cybersecurity effort that is not tested by public
oversight will be weaker than ones that are scrutinzed by private-sector
experts, academics, security vendors, and watchdog groups."
Stab at 'Total Information Awareness'? TechDirt's Mike Masnick writes, "Recalling the old
plans for the 'Total
Information Awareness' system from nearly a decade ago (which
eventually was scrapped -- at least publicly -- after widespread
outrage), apparently the NSA is setting up a top secret new internet
surveillance program with the ominously creepy name 'Perfect Citizen.'
The NSA, of course, is quick to claim that the program is just for 'research' purposes, to assess vulnerabilities and capabilities, but not
everyone is buying that explanation."
- Gov't Insiders Push For
Stronger Cybersecurity Wired's Ryan Singel points out,
"Government insiders have recently been whipping
up bureaucratic and public support for increased government funding
for computer security. Former Director of National Intelligence Michael
McConnell convinced President Bush to sign a still-largely-secret
computer-security plan in January 2008, after telling him that hackers
going after the nation's banks could cause economic damage worse
than the Sept. 11 attacks. Now back at a government-contracting
business, McConnell was given space in The Washington Post to
declare the nation was actually in the midst of a cyberwar that it was
losing, without actually noting who the country was at war with or where
the casualties were being treated."
- The Worst Part Is Just
The Name The Atlantic's Marc
Ambinder calls it "a fairly innocuous public-private partnership
aimed at helping companies that handle critical infrastructure and whose
networks might be vulnerable." He laments the name and wonders why
someone couldn't come up with something more innocuous like "brown
desk." He agrees that the program shouldn't be so secret. "If the NSA
hadn't classified this program, the thrust of the news would be: hey,
government's doing something about cyber threats. Yay!"
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