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The American public has learned more about security on the Internet,
“cookies,” and the concepts of opt-in or opt-out this past week than in
the history of the World Wide Web. The cyber attacks on the titans of
the Internet, Amazon, E*TRADE, eBay and Yahoo!, among others, has shown
that the Internet is no more immune to predators than the senior citizen
slowly walking down a deserted street. The FBI, always eager for
positive press, has been announcing its progress against the cyber
terrorists almost hourly.

Taking its cue from heightened interest in Internet issues, USA
Today’s Feb. 15 paper devoted a complete page and additional column
inches to “eWorld” and the question of personal privacy on the Internet.
In addition, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) announced
the filing of a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
against DoubleClick, asking the commission to “investigate the practices
of the company, to destroy all records wrongfully obtained, to invoke
civil penalties, and to enjoin the firm from violating the Federal Trade
Commission Act.” At the same time on Capitol Hill, Senator Robert
Torricelli, D-N.J., no stranger to utilizing popular issues to seize his
fifteen minutes of fame in the media spotlight, introduced the Internet
Privacy Act, which would regulate “cookies” on the Internet. Electronic
cookies, as opposed to the edible kind, are small files placed on
personal computers that both remember user preferences, such as which
city to track for weather information or stock symbols, and are used to
track the user’s Internet activity. Allowing corporate America to track
users as they surf the net is the primary concern of many computer users
and privacy advocates.

DoubleClick, incorporated only four years ago, has been building a
“network” of advertising partners to become one of the leading providers
of Internet banner advertising. Among its many network partners are
AltaVista, The Dilbert Zone, PBS Online, Travelocity, Multex Investor
Network, and Major League Baseball. When an Internet user first accesses
any one of the more than 1,000 members of its network, a cookie with a
unique serial number is placed on the user’s personal computer. Then on
every subsequent visit to a DoubleClick network site, DoubleClick reads
and records that unique number.

Additionally, DoubleClick has developed what it calls “DART”
technology — a system of taking those unique numbers and enabling
advertisers to target and deliver banner ads directly to the Web user
based on his or her Internet surfing history. As a result, I would view
ads that would be different than ads viewed by a user with different web
surfing habits; all controlled by those ubiquitous cookies. The
complaint lodged by EPIC states, “Through the
use of cookies and DART technology, DoubleClick’s collection of consumer
information is extensive. … DoubleClick reportedly has compiled
approximately 100 million Internet users’ profiles to date.” I have no
doubt that most WorldNetDaily readers and I are among those 100 million
profiles.

But DoubleClick has not been content just to track Web users. Their
business strategy includes matching the database of Internet user e-mail
addresses with any and all personal demographic data they can acquire.
Their announcement of their intention to merge with Abacus Direct
Corporation, a leading provider of consumer information for the direct
marketing industry, last June was a step towards achieving their
business objectives. Then on Dec. 1, 1999, DoubleClick revealed it was
also acquiring Opt-In Email.com, a supplier of e-mail advertising to
clients like Microsoft and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The headline on the New
York Times online article
told the story: “DoubleClick Raises More Hackles With Privacy
Advocates.” Those concerns were justified when the mergers were
completed and the new DoubleClick privacy policy was announced on Feb.
2, 2000. Even though DoubleClick began a new website to “explain” their
privacy policies, most Internet users were never aware of that policy
since there was no mention of DoubleClick’s activity on any of the
websites issuing the “cookies.”

The DoubleClick privacy furor and cyber-attacks on major websites
brought the issue of privacy and security on the Internet into the
political arena. The Wall Street Journal stated that the White House
cyber-summit of Feb. 15, 2000, was “hastily called last week,” while the
Feb. 16 New York Times wrote, “The meeting was organized months ago to
discuss ways to prevent the World Wide Web from being used for terrorism
but took on a sudden urgency with last week’s events.” Whatever version
is true, I tend to believe the Wall Street Journal. Clinton again was
given an opportunity to act presidential on the cyberspace issues of the
day. As usual, the great prevaricator told everyone what he or she
wanted to hear. According to Neil King of the Wall Street Journal, “Mr.
Clinton assured industry participants that he had no intention of
meddling in the booming arena of Internet commerce. What is needed, he
said, is greater cooperation between industry and government,
particularly in the area of increased security and law enforcement.”
Clinton went on to say, “The only contribution the government made to
the Internet was the early research over 30 years ago.” At least he knew
better than to buttress Al Gore’s claim to inventing the Internet.

The Internet executives read Clinton’s comments as commitments to
ensure that the Internet remains free of government regulation.
According to the New York Times,
Commerce Secretary William Daley said, “It is not about the government
regulating this or taking steps or actions that would at all impede the
Internet because, of course, it is the dynamic engine that is driving
our economy today and we must keep that open.” David Starr, the chief
information officer for the 3Com Corporation, when asked if the
government could do anything to improve security on the Web to ensure
that last week’s incidents were not repeated, answered, “The answer was
clearly no.”

Yet that kind of wishful thinking runs counter to what has actually
taken place regarding cyberspace, privacy and government regulation.
Last March, I wrote how Internet privacy groups were fighting Intel and urging recall of its
Pentium III chip that included a chip ID number that could have the
effect of “enabling marketers, governments and others to track computer
users’ visits to the Internet.” I also mentioned that Microsoft’s
Windows 98 has the “capability of registering computers, their owners
and their documents,” making the Microsoft privacy invasion more
insidious since it was linked to owner’s names rather than the hardware
link of the Intel chip. I concluded that column by saying “both
government and corporations have an appetite for data collection.”

The Clinton White House will certainly do nothing to damage Internet
commerce for fear of bringing the booming economy to a halt and thereby
hurting the chances for Al Gore to move into the White House. That was
evident when Janet Reno appeared yesterday before a hastily called
Senate hearing. She did not propose any new legislation, but encouraged
the Congress to pass Clinton’s budget for the Department of Justice. The
proposed budget increases the $100 million that is already being spent
to combat computer crime by almost 40 percent. In addition, the funding
would cover “response teams” to be sent out wherever and whenever cyber
crimes occur.

Thus, Clinton will continue doing what he does best: talking out of
both sides of his mouth. He promises “first and foremost, we have to
safeguard our citizens’ privacy. …” as he did in his State of the
Union speech, while doing nothing to halt the FBI’s overreaching efforts
to dictate the design of the nation’s communication infrastructure. He
issues an Executive Order on Genetic Privacy
while still supporting the concept of
FIDNET,
the government’s computer surveillance program.

Industry leaders may believe that there won’t be any White House
initiatives on crime on the Internet. However, if more cyber attacks are
initiated, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another attempt at passing the
Cyberspace Electronic Security Act,
which I discussed in “Try Again, and
Again”
last August. That legislative proposal would allow federal agents armed
with sealed search warrants to secretly break into offices and homes to
search computers. The importance of remaining vigilant against any
erosion of the Bill of Rights cannot be overstated, because the enemies
of personal freedom come in many varieties: government, corporate and
individual.

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