NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Liberties At Stake In Policing Internet Crime?

February 17, 2000

In its efforts to protect the Internet from hackers, con-artists, pornographers and the like, the federal government is plunging ever deeper into policing its operations, experts point out. And they note that however well-intentioned such efforts may be, there is a decided risk to the Internet's libertarian culture.

Among the government's on-line activities:

  • Echelon, a spying network operated by the intelligence agencies of several Western countries -- led by the U.S. National Security Agency -- scans millions of international communications for suspicious words, such as "revolution," "manifesto" and "Waco."
  • The FBI tracks adults with a suspicious interest in children.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission has created a "cyberforce" to troll the Internet for scam artists -- as have the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration.
  • President Clinton's Working Group on Unlawful Conduct on the Internet has proposed a Federal Intrusion Detection Network within the FBI that would monitor flows of electronic data to track down future hackers -- creating an unprecedented opportunity for FBI surveillance of all domestic communications.

The FBI has also proposed rules that would permit tracking of physical locations of cellular phone use and monitoring of Internet traffic under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act -- although those rules are being challenged in court.

Another administration plan is LawNet -- which would coordinate enforcement and prosecutorial activities around the world.

Privacy advocates warn that there is a dark side to all this sudden activity -- the potential for a governmental assault on individual freedoms.

Source: Jonathan G.S. Koppell (New America Foundation), "Security and the Internet: Don't Tread on Freedom," Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2000.


Browse more articles on Government Issues