Do you want the Department of Motor Vehicles to be able to read the private e-mail that runs over your network?
If a bill approved by the crime panel of the House Judiciary Committee becomes law, any government entity--not just law enforcement agencies--will be able to receive e-mail and other electronic communications without a court order, so long as a service provider believes an emergency requires its disclosure without delay. The measure is part of a larger initiative aimed at reducing computer-related crime.
"A mouse can be just as dangerous as a bullet or a bomb," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the crime subcommittee and sponsor of the Cyber Security Enhancement Act of 2001. "We cannot afford to let technology be our weakness."
The measure would broaden a provision in the hastily enacted USA PATRIOT Act, which was signed into law just four months ago. The provision, whose primary purpose was to eliminate disincentives to sharing crime-related information with law enforcement, covers situations when a service provider reasonably believes that an emergency requires immediate disclosure.
The pending bill would further lower the bar to turning over private communications by authorizing a service provider to share data with the government if the provider, in good faith, believes an emergency requires disclosure without delay. The initiative concerns privacy advocates, who argue that the existing legislation already infringes on Fourth Amendment rights and is devoid of checks and balances that discourage illegal disclosures.
"The communications [that can be disclosed] are not limited to communications related to a crime; there is no report to a judge, no report to Congress, and there is no notice to the individual whose e-mail is disclosed," said James Dempsey, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. "This bill says not only that the information can go to law enforcement, but it can go to any government authority, including the proverbial dog catcher," Dempsey said
The bill would also increase penalties for computer crimes, establish a new FBI National Infrastructure Protection Center, and establish an Office of Science and Technology at the Department of Justice, charged with developing personalized guns, bullet-resistant and explosion-resistant glass, monitoring systems that provide precise location information, and DNA identification technologies.
The IT industry widely supports the legislation because it reduces network operators liability when sharing information with the government. "The threat of cyber attacks is real, and its fallout is a significant economic drag on the U.S. economy, precisely at a time when we can least afford it," Robert Cresanti, vice president of policy at the Business Software Alliance, said in a prepared statement, applauding the subcommittees passage of the bill.