US government denies plans for net monitoring system

The US Department of Homeland Security is denying a report last week that the US government is planning to release a proposal requiring internet service providers to help build a centralised system designed to monitor internet use.

          A representative for the US Department of Homeland Security is denying a report from last week that the US government is planning to release a proposal requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to help build a centralised system designed to monitor internet use.

          The denial came after the New York Times reported in its online edition on Friday that a final version of "The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace" report, due out early next year, called for the creation of a centralised net monitoring system.

          "The story is wrong. There is no such proposal under consideration," says Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

          The final report is being prepared by the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board. The board put forth a draft of the report in September, which has been posted for public comment here.

          Despite the government's claims that it has no plans to monitor internet use, Stewart Baker, a partner with Washington, DC-based law firm Steptoe & Johnson who represents a group of ISPs, said Friday that his clients have seen a version of the report which includes a net monitoring system.

          "This struck us as a bad enough idea that we should talk about it," Baker says.

          Although Baker has not seen the report himself, he says his clients have seen a draft of the plan that calls for a consolidated version of ISPs' network monitoring centres, which allow ISPs to look at activity on their networks, down to the content being accessed by a particular user.

          If the government creates such a system, this type of surveillance could be interpreted as a wiretap and could have serious privacy ramifications, Baker says.

          "If the government sits alongside the people [in the monitoring centre] and looks at content, it's clearly engaged in a wiretap," Baker says.

          However, a source familiar with the private sector's involvement in the strategy says he had not seen any proposals to create a central monitoring system for the internet. The source, who did not want to be named, says that the only similar proposal he saw was a plan to have private and public sector warning systems communicate with one another.

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