November 17

November 17. That means it has been several days since I’ve made an entry. It is also, of course, the nom de guerre of a particularly successful terrorist group started back in the days before we declared war on terror. It takes is name from the date that the Greek Army crushed a student protest in 1973, killing 20. Its quarter-century of successful operations makes bin Laden look like a very precocious high-schooler. 17N was making terrorism textbooks back before bin Laden had even joined up with the CIA.

In fact, very little was known about the organization for most of its existence, until a break in the case this summer led to the capture of the organization’s “mastermind” (why can this only be used in a negative way?), a math professor.

November 17, this time in 1800, was also the date of the first meeting of Congress in Washington, D.C.. The Congress has recently been up to some interesting promulgating, not unrelated to the “war on terror.” The Chronicle reports that there is a new bill authorizing new research funds for cybersecurity research and education. Interestingly, non-US citizens are excluded from such funding, and the bill is aimed at encouraging citizens to study in the area–though there is also a possibility that some pork is involved. Nonetheless, I’m certainly not going to complain about more research funding being out there.

On November 17, 1985, the first issue of Phrack was distributed on the Metal Shop BBS. Stick with me, this really does have something to do both with terrorism and the congress!

The latest edition of Phrack notes that a “life sentence for hackers” has been effectively established via the passage of the Cyber Security Enhancement Act (CSEA). Had they only known about the proposed Homeland Security Act. William Safire sums it up thusly

If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:

Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade your receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as “a virtual, centralized grand database.”

The problem here is what is seen as a real invasion of privacy: not necessarily the collection, but the combination of data. The “Total Information Awareness” system (pdf of details [4.5 Mb]), makes all of the predictions of privacy advocates suddenly far less paranoid sounding. The system itself does not seem so onerous (in fact it is an interesting set of technologies that applies to any kind of massive database problem), but in combination with the opening of new sources of information, it represents a new kind of surveillance environment. This is no “creeping phenomenon,” it is a slam-dunk amputation of privacy rights.

Where do we stand now in terms of civil liberties? Take the ACLU’s quiz (via Eszter’s List) and find out. The situation is grim. There is a balance to be struck between enforcement of public safety and personal liberty. Had the proposal radically increased information available about private individuals, and at the same time made government investigations more open and transparent, it might have slipped by. As it is, many of those who feel aggrieved will turn to old and new tools to protect their privacy. As a result, the federal government may push us to an increasingly difficult world to police.

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