March 7, 2013

In recent years there has been a wave of cyber-attacks against US Corporations, the Government and individual citizens. On some occasions the Pentagon has reportedly declared that such blatant attacks can be classified as an act of war. Defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and others have been compromised, trade secrets and potentially military secrets whisked overseas. The implications of such intellectual property and top-secret government intelligence falling into the wrong hands could be devastating. This also holds true for corporate America and U.S. citizens alike who expect their information to be protected, whether that’s commercial data or one’s medical health records.


Without the necessary tools to protect citizens and enterprise, America faces the most severe risk imaginable- U.S. military property in the hands of foreign governments targeting U.S. citizens. How many years will it take for a hostile nation to extract U.S. weapons technology so that it might one day be used adversely against U.S citizens?


The American public is hyper-sensitive about terrorism, and rightly so. Without real information security, at the citizen and the corporate level, America suffers economic damage and the potential for much worse to the direct benefit of foreign powers.


Are the NSA intercepts a dangerous breach of the 4th Amendment or are they necessary to prevent terror attacks? This is the debate that must occur not only in America but throughout the world among those who are fearful of terrorism but also concerned about privacy rights. I have read and understand that many Americans are disappointed that the administration has been slow in encouraging this debate, and the NSA and the intelligence community have been slow in explaining their programs to the American people, which as the head of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, proved last week before congress, can be done without compromising sources and methods of the anti-terrorist programs.


Americans have been told that the ultimate targets were foreigners, and not average citizens. But how can U.S. citizens now be sure that their data and their conversations are kept private and protected? How do you prevent those communications from falling into the wrong hands? How can we protect ourselves from terrorism while insisting that the intelligence agencies are restricted to the narrowest intrusions possible in order to maintain these protections?


These are the important questions that Senators Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D.-Colo.) have been asking — and that advocates in the privacy rights community want an open discussion about. Reforms in the powers granted to NSA under the Patriot Act and the FISA-supervised process proposed by Senators Wyden and Udall deserve a serious look.


I’m not in favor of extreme pendulum swing in the other direction preventing intelligence agencies from taking steps to protect us from terrorists. We must recognize the need for some capability for surveillance and, where a terrorist threat has been identified, obtaining more specific interceptions, based on probable cause. But the necessity to catch criminals has to be balanced with the right to privacy, the right to protect commercial secrets and intellectual property to avoid scenarios posing much greater damage. Snowden’s illegal acts, for which he will eventually be held accountable, have thrust the privacy debate into the limelight.


I also believe that if privacy rights are important to protect corporate sensitive information, then they are also important for the average citizen, maybe more important. Every American should have the right to feel secure that his or her telephone conversations or text messages are not being listened in on by government without probable cause that a crime has been committed. As I understand the U.S. Constitution as a non-American this is a requirement of the Fourth Amendment. The Administration has a duty to protect its citizens and corporate America from this global wave of cyber-threat. Tighten your information security and give your citizens the protection they deserve from responsible Government. Find the right balance between technical surveillance, traditional intelligence operations and the right to privacy.


This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.

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All content copyright Harvey Boulter 2017

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