The US federal government is given increased authority to monitor the Internet

The NSA and other intelligence agencies will be shifting some focus to watch government networks at home. This is good...and bad.

Earlier this month President Bush signed a directive that gives the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies to monitor Internet traffic to protect all government computer systems. As the Washington Post reports, this is causing particular concern because the NSA's focus has traditionally been on overseas activity, not domestic.

Why does this matter? Consider:

Allowing a spy agency to monitor domestic networks is worrisome, said James X. Dempsey, policy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "We're concerned that the NSA is claiming such a large role over the security of unclassified systems," he said. "They are a spy agency as well as a communications security agency. They operate in total secrecy. That's not necessary and not the most effective way to protect unclassified systems."

I'm not paranoid but I'm with Nick Carr on this one: we'll never know just what is being monitored, or how, or why.

That's a bit worrisome.

It's partly of concern because it's only a matter of time before the power is expanded to monitor all domestic networks. After all (and as the article points out), much of the most dangerous Internet activity would be against private enterprises. Bringing down or stealing data from Visa, American Express, and other such companies could do much more damage than launching a denial of service attack against the Environmental Protection Agency.

All we have right now is the fact that the authority has yet to be granted to monitor such networks. Again, I'm not a privacy freak but I'm a wee bit concerned once the government starts to spend an inordinate amount of time looking inward rather than outward.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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