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As post-Sept. 11 calls for increased security measures are countered by concerns over further restrictions on personal freedom, some security experts say laws creating national identification cards, or requiring software developers to incorporate “back door” access for government agents, will not be effective in increasing Americans’ overall security.
George O’Connor, an internal computer consultant and security engineer for a top computer manufacturer, expressed his sentiments by paraphrasing a popular slogan: “If you outlaw encryption, only outlaws will have encryption.”
Indeed, well before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the U.S. government had pressured software manufacturers to put into their Internet encryption products a “back door,” enabling government counterintelligence agents easy access to encoded messages sent by terrorist groups on the Net.
O’Connor expressed his doubt that terrorists would cooperate with any U.S. government requirement regarding encrypted materials on the Internet, nor did he doubt that computer-savvy terrorists would fail to close — or open — any “back door” left open for Uncle Sam.
The attempt to prohibit or control Internet communications is a virtual impossibility in view of the “open source movement,” O’Connor said.
The “open source movement” comprises computer professionals who make their projects open to general view and comment. The object is to obtain useful and challenging comment, which can then be used both to improve the project and increase the skill and marketability of the computer professional.
Projects produced in environments not open to such potentially rigorous “peer review” – Microsoft products, for instance – may well have undetected vulnerabilities opening them to hostile attack or manipulation, O’Connor observed.
Since much of the Internet operates with Microsoft products, O’Connor reasoned, much of the Internet is vulnerable to attack.
O’Connor favors a general overhaul of the Internet, noting that the system was originally designed for large mainframes in a highly controlled environment to connect with each other — not many thousands, or millions, of home computers around the globe.
Advocating design changes that would avoid denial-of-service attacks, O’Connor favors better use of encryption to ensure privacy on the Internet.
Concerned about the tendency toward an ever-more-watchful government, O’Connor quipped, “Freedom and security are inversely proportioned.”
The other high-profile security measure being considered – this one even scarier to average Americans – is for the implementation of a national identity card in the United States.
Jim Ross, president of Ross Engineering Associates, a respected security and counter-surveillance firm, was skeptical and cautious about a national ID, pointing to the resources needed for such a system.
In order to avoid the use of falsified IDs, for instance, Ross noted that a national database would need to be put in place, with “broadband communications” linking it to every point where suspect IDs might need to be challenged.
The scheme would be “expensive, difficult and would take a long time to develop,” Ross stated, adding, “I don’t think the American people would permit it.”
Ross also recalled his personal and unpleasant memories of the identification system used in occupied Germany, where he served in the U.S. Army following WWII.
Describing the experience as “chilling,” Ross recounted to WorldNetDaily how German police would challenge German citizens at will and demand their identification papers.
Police and military authorities in the U.S. are meant “to protect the country, not challenge citizens,” said Ross.
He suggested that U.S. counter-terrorism agents could develop a national system that would keep track of telephone numbers frequently called by terrorist suspects, as well as others calling into those numbers.
Expressing surprise that U.S. anti-terrorism efforts up to Sept. 11 had apparently made little use of undercover agents within the United States, Ross echoed recent concerns over U.S. intelligence’s over-reliance on technology, asking, “What are we spending our money on?”