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Year in review: Who's watching you?

Terrorism fears put privacy rights in question and, as Washington prepares for a possible war, the tension between security and privacy is on the rise.


Who's watching you?

Terrorism fears put privacy rights in question.

The United States may have declared war on terrorism, but could electronic privacy be a little-noticed casualty in this conflict?

With Washington on a wartime footing, the tension between security and freedom, surveillance and privacy has rarely been as acute.

Congress voted to create the Department of Homeland Security, and in doing so gave police more power to eavesdrop on the Internet and ISPs more latitude in turning information about their customers over to the government.

A secretive federal court met for the first time in its history and agreed with Attorney General John Ashcroft that restrictions on federal agents conducting physical, traditional and electronic surveillance were too onerous. The Justice Department gave the public the first hints about how last year's USA Patriot Act provided it with enormous investigative muscle.

John Poindexter, disgraced in the Iran-Contra scandal, became the target of criticism after he was appointed to run a Pentagon agency charged with building a massive antiterror database with information about nearly every American. Another Pentagon agency considered--and rejected--a plan to limit online anonymity by tagging e-mail and Web browsing with unique markers for each Internet user.

But that wasn't all. Microsoft and the Federal Trade Commission settled a privacy investigation into the design of Passport, and Verizon Communications and the Recording Industry of America Association battled over how much anonymity an alleged peer-to-peer pirate should receive. DoubleClick settled a privacy suit, the idea of a national ID card reared its head, and some champions of privacy in the U.S. Congress departed.

--Declan McCullagh

Patriot Act said to hinder Net freedoms
Lawmakers and civil libertarians attack the 6-month-old Patriot Act, saying it has "created the danger that Americans will be afraid to communicate freely over the Internet.

April 25, 2002

Microsoft, FTC reach privacy settlement
The settlement addresses allegations that Passport collects too much information, uses unfair or deceptive practices, and fails to adequately protect the security of personal information.

August 8, 2002

Verizon subpoena and anonymity
Yahoo and ISPs enter the Net privacy fray as they side with Verizon Communications in its legal spat with the recording industry over revealing the identity of an alleged peer-to-peer pirate.

September 10, 2002

DOJ responds to House on Patriot Act
Powers awarded to federal police by the act have made it easier to obtain court orders to spy on cable-modem users, government officials say.

October 17, 2002

Secret U.S. court OKs electronic spying
Police are given broad authority to monitor Internet use, record keystrokes and employ other surveillance methods against terror and espionage suspects.

November 18, 2002

Pentagon drops plan to curb Net anonymity
Would you want the government reading your eDNA? A proposed plan that would sharply curtail online anonymity is scrapped by the Defense Department.

November 22, 2002

Bush signs Department of Homeland Security bill
The authors of the massive law envision a far greater role for the government when it comes to making sure operating systems, hardware and the Internet are secure.

November 25, 2002


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• Comcast privacy move its latest woe
• FTC's Orson Swindle on privacy, spam
• Ziff Davis settles privacy probe
• Best Buy changes privacy policy
• Documents reveal Carnivore deficiencies
• eBay backs off privacy-policy change
• FTC settles e-mail privacy probe
• Could Hollywood hack your PC?
• National IDs stage a comeback?