[Hpn] Recommended csmonitor.com article
Tue, 04 Jul 2000 07:23:34 -0400 (EDT)
firstname.lastname@example.org has recommended this article from The Christian Science Monitor's
Trust me this is only the tip of the iceberg!
Headline: Uncle Sam's 'cookie' is watching you
Byline: Eric E. Sterling
The Scripps Howard News Service revealed last month that the White House
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was planting Internet
surveillance codes, called "cookies," in the computers of people who
visited their drug-education Web sites. People searching the Internet for
drug-related information are steered to these Web sites by banner ads, paid
for with tax dollars, appearing whenever certain keywords are used in
Internet privacy advocates, upon learning of the cookie practice - which
the White House quickly clarified as a violation of its own privacy
policies - were outraged. But the problems with this practice are much
An Internet cookie is a computer instruction that reports back to the
computer system that placed it information about the identity and Internet
activities of the computer that has had the cookie implanted. Logging on to
a Web site, or even viewing an online ad, can load a cookie onto a computer
hard drive. The information tracked can include one's e-mail address,
Internet service provider, the unique identifier of a person's computer,
the types of computer software used, and the Internet searches a person
conducts. Some of this data can be analyzed to indicate where a computer
user lives or works.
During the 1980s, I worked for Congress and helped write the 1988
legislation creating the ONDCP. The goal was to improve the coordination of
federal antidrug efforts - and ONDCP overwhelmingly was given a
law-enforcement mission. Each year, it directs hundreds of millions of
dollars toward intelligence gathering and law enforcement through its
law-enforcement task forces that blanket the nation.
For the drug czar's office to place secret surveillance codes into the
computers of Americans is dangerous and counter-productive for three
*Surveillance of this kind by a federal law-enforcement agency is probably
unlawful and unconstitutional. Congress hasn't authorized the White House
to plant surveillance technology in Americans' computers. Indeed, the
Fourth Amendment guarantees we are secure in our "persons, houses, papers,
and effects, against unreasonable searches," and that searches are only
authorized by judges' warrants for probable cause specifically describing
the place to be searched.
It's clear our computer files are "effects," which are protected. Millions
of people use the Internet daily to contact their banks, pay bills, monitor
investments, and make the most private, sensitive financial transactions.
Our use of the Internet is like going to a file cabinet for our private
papers. Millions of people keep their personal files and correspondence in
computers maintained by Internet service providers like AOL. The files are
remote from home or office and are only accessed by the Internet, but
potentially tracked by the ONDCP cookie.
ONDCP is actually financing research on how to do more surveillance using
the Internet and databases built on Web traffic.
*This practice threatens political speech and debate. Americans are
questioning national drug policy. Two governors - Gary Johnson (R) of New
Mexico and Jesse Ventura (Reform) of Minnesota - suggest some kind of
legalization and regulation of drugs and drug use may be better strategies
than our current ineffective prohibition approach. Citizens naturally turn
to Internet search engines and go to government Web sites to learn more
about these important issues. They use the Internet like their private
library, calling up "bookmarked" or favorite Web sites like they take books
from a shelf.
When the government conducts clandestine surveillance of people looking for
information about drug issues, it's intimidating. It dangerously chills the
opportunity for free, open debate, which is fundamental to democracy and
the making of sound public policy.
*As a matter of drug policy, this is counter-productive. People who looking
for information about "addiction," "cocaine," "marijuana," etc. are often
looking for help. Many of the people we most need to educate about drug
dangers are drug users, their family members, and friends. When the public
worries that by seeking information about drug addiction, private
information is captured secretly, we inevitably discourage those who most
need this potentially life-saving information.
The ONDCP has promised to terminate the practice. But, it is disturbing
evidence that the drug czar and his staff don't have a clear idea of the
appropriate limits on their powers. This was also seen earlier this year
when ONDCP's clandestine practice of offering "advertising credits" to TV
networks and news magazines in exchange for censoring scripts or running
favorable stories was revealed. It doesn't seem to appreciate the
appropriate relation between the government of a democracy and the people
who constitute that democracy.
While the cookie episode is a reminder of the growing loss of privacy in
the Information Age, it's also yet another warning of how
antidrug-establishment zealotry continues to threaten law-abiding citizens
by curtailing their freedoms. Millions of citizens are routinely tested for
drugs they never use. Now they're under surveillance for using drug words
in Internet searches.
*Eric E. Sterling, president of the nonprofit Criminal Justice Policy
Foundation, from 1979 to 1989, was counsel to the House Judiciary Committee
where he was principally responsible for antidrug legislation.
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