IF YOU VALUE YOUR FREEDOM, LOOK CLOSELY
-- By Chris Gonsalves --
(copied from eweek email. Chris is Department Editor)
It is disturbing when the same government that is
encouraging all of us to get on with our normal lives is
hard at work making sure that things will never be the same
in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent
Disturbing, not surprising. Some of the changes would erode
our sense of privacy and freedom, and some would have real
economic impacts on businesses that folks have fostered on
the Internet and elsewhere.
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague joked that it wouldn't be
long before the government decided that it needed to open
our personal mail to "protect us." At about the same time, a
proposal to do pretty much that was making its way through
our House of Representatives--the workplace of the good
folks who asked us to get on with our lives while they quit
early and high-tailed it out of D.C. at the first hint of
anthrax in stone city.
Deep in the heart of the "Oxley bill"--which is the short
name for the Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001--are
provisions to allow law enforcement to poke around in
heretofore personal and private financial information; to
take cash from anyone who can't immediately explain where
they got it; to eliminate any expectation of privacy in any
international monetary transaction; and to, gasp, open and
inspect any international mail without a warrant.
In addition to raising the hackles of folks such as the
American Civil Liberties Union, the proposal gets a
thumbs-down from U.S. Postal officials. "For the first time
in America's 225-year history, [this] would allow sealed,
outbound international mail to be stopped and searched at
the border without a warrant. There is no evidence that
eroding these long established privacy protections will
bring any significant law enforcement improvements over what
is achieved using existing, statutorily approved law
enforcement techniques," postal officials wrote Congress in
regard to the Oxley bill.
If that weren't enough, the Oxley bill, as proposed, would
take a bite out of one of the few enterprises making money
on the Internet today. Now I understand that casino gambling
on the Net already violates federal and most state laws, but
the impossibility of enforcement has made it one of the
Web's entrepreneurial bright spots. And with gamblers
reluctant to jet off to Vegas or Atlantic City, online
gaming was poised to have a banner year, even if most of the
money is being collected on small, rocky islands in the
But the Oxley bill would put a major kink in the ability of
these offshore to accept credit card and wire-transfer
funds. Without them, they're cooked. No surprise that in
addition to the gamers and the tech companies that support
them, the Oxley bill is being met with vocal opposition from
the credit card companies.
Vice is vice, but like the Post Office's argument against
tearing open international mail, nobody has yet connected
the dots between the legislation and the terrorism we all
loathe. How will nixing online gambling make us safer?
The Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 breezed through the
House and reportedly has strong support in the Senate. If it
were the only attempt to change our definition of a free and
open society, it would be bad enough. But it isn't. As eWEEK
has reported, the euphemistically titled Uniting and
Strengthening America Act of 2001 encapsulates the best of
lawmakers' intentions with the worst of law enforcement
expansions. With it, the FBI would have access to just about
anything it wants as long as investigators say it has some
foreign intelligence value. Judges will be powerless to do
anything but issue an order when asked by federal
I expect I was one of many persons who received last week a
revised copy of my employer's policy for use of their
computers and networks--along with a rundown of how they
would check on me to make sure I was complying. I don't have
a big problem with the warning that I'm about to be
Carnivorized, but it did give me pause to think about what's
been lost since the world changed six weeks ago. I never
spent much time thinking about the search terms I plugged
into my Google toolbar. Now I do. A second or two.
Multiplied by 7,500 times a day, that comes to... a change
in my life I could have done without.
Maybe I can relax and unwind with a little online
blackjack--when I get home, on my own computer, of course.
If I can only find a Web casino that'll take a check.