Safe no more

Americans should be concerned about the politics of the incoming “Internet Czar.”

Tech-loving conspiracy theorists must be making virtual hay out of recent revelations suggesting the internet may undergo substantial changes under the Obama administration. Security expert and leading cyber czar candidate Paul Kurtz called for a more sweeping cyber intelligence organization at WednesdayâÄôs Black Hat security conference, arguing internet infrastructure would be unprepared to weather a âÄúcyber Katrina,âÄù whereby hackers could potentially disrupt power grids, financial markets, or even shut down vast portions of the internet. âÄúWe need a policy that shows where attacks are coming from so the U.S. government will connect the dots in cyberspaceâĦto better understand who is attacking our networks,âÄù Kurtz said. Not only does Kurtz advocate the creation of a new national cybersecurity center, heâÄôd like to see greater information sharing and gathering capabilities among already established intelligence agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Defense Department which oversees the PATRIOT ActâÄôs warrantless wiretap engine, the National Security Agency. In fact, Kurtz expressly approved of the NSAâÄôs unlawful surveillance advantage Wednesday, stating âÄúNSA has the infrastructure to collect and analyze information,âÄù while the Department of Homeland Security âÄúdoesnâÄôt have much to offer other than what the private sector shares with them.âÄù All this comes on the heels of two high-profile accounts of a push for a new internet altogether. The Wall Street Journal asked on Tuesday, âÄúDo You Want a New Internet?âÄù while New York Times columnist John Markoff recently wrote of the âÄúgrowing belief among engineers and security experts that Internet security and privacy have becomes so maddeningly elusive that the only way to fix the problem is to start over.âÄù The most popular alternative? A sort of âÄúgated communityâÄù where users relinquish anonymity and âÄúcertain freedomsâÄù in return for safety. Classical wisdom warns against the foolishness of such a trade off, but in light of recent viral worms like Conficker âÄì the virus that breached the defense ministries of England and Germany – some argue the trade is necessary. Perhaps eeriest of all was KurtzâÄôs call for what amounts to the militarization of cyberspace, âÄúwe canâÄôt sit back and not have a capability to defend ourselves.âÄù Kurtz blasted any potential ethical objections, arguing that the internet has already been militarized: âÄúitâÄôs too late.âÄù And Kurtz is partially right, the internet is at the very least in the militarization process by regimes such as China, who hope to be able to thwart traditional ground-, air-, or sea-based military operations through internet espionage or remote communications-jamming. Pentagon officials have remarked of the capabilities of such asymmetric warfare, and KurtzâÄôs concern has been piqued as well, but if we are indeed to match our rivals in cybermilitary capabilities, will we not simultaneously need to stoop to their level of surveillance? All-in-all, the creation of a National Cybersecurity Center to coordinate cyber-intelligence activity and information does not legitimately appear necessary. Have we lost all faith in privacy and private actors? There is surely a reason that the mention of such sweeping cyber-security measures has been âÄòtabooâÄô among the cyber-community. The notion sounds Orwellian. Any such new cyber security organization will focus on problems that affect strategic U.S. interests. In August 2006, district Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled NSAâÄôs warrantless surveillance program illegal and unconstitutional, but her decision has since been overturned by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which remains good law. The implementation of KurtzâÄôs recommended security measures will indeed compound government surveillance of the people. âÄúFusing information from the local level and data derived from national intelligence is critical to our success in cyberspace. Think back to 9/11: we know what happened when information is not fused and shared properly. The same thing is happening in cyberspace today,âÄù Kurtz posited. However, one must take a step back to defamiliarize oneself with the circumstances. It was tragic indeed that three-thousand Americans lost their lives eight years ago in the attack upon the World Trade Center. But perhaps more tragic is what ensued: the most comprehensive unification of U.S. intelligence efforts in history and the unconstitutional, secret surveillance of American citizens without warrant. After examining KurtzâÄôs rhetoric, there is no reason to believe that whatâÄôs in the making is a PATRIOT Act redux; instead of phone lines, online communications will be monitored. We must ask ourselves if the benefits of perceived security are indeed worth the cost. How much will these trump-card cyber-security experts cost? Will they truly provide a service that the private sector cannot? Is privacy relevant anymore? It certainly ought be; just as the death of 3,000 Americans did not merit the unconstitutional response of the Bush Administration, some merely plausible cyber threat does not merit the restructuring of the internet as we know it toward a security model, nor the further expansion of domestic espionage. Until America falls victim to a cyber-monster as real and grave as privacy is important, letâÄôs remain as free as possible.