Big Brother wrapped as “Perfect Citizen”
At the same time legislation currently in the Senate would give the president expansive power over the Internet during an emergency, the National Security Agency (NSA) has developed a program, dubbed “Perfect Citizen,” to detect cyber attacks on the United States:
The surveillance by the National Security Agency, the government’s chief eavesdropping agency, would rely on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be triggered by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyber attack, though it wouldn’t persistently monitor the whole system, these people said.
Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. recently won a classified contract for the initial phase of the surveillance effort valued at up to $100 million, said a person familiar with the project.
Some industry and government officials familiar with the program see Perfect Citizen as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs, while others say it is an important program to combat an emerging security threat that only the NSA is equipped to provide.
“The overall purpose of the [program] is our Government…feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security,” said one internal Raytheon email, the text of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal. “Perfect Citizen is Big Brother.”
A cybersecurity effort that is not tested by public oversight will be weaker than ones that are scrutinized by private-sector experts, academics, security vendors, and watchdog groups.
Benign intentions do not control future results, and governmental surveillance of the Internet for “cybersecurity” purposes may warp over time to surveillance for ideological and political purposes.
These abstract criticisms of “Project Citizen” are all that publicly available information allows. Far better would come from me and others more qualified if Congress were to do its job.
Congress owes it to us, the United States’ true citizens, to have public hearings on “Perfect Citizen.” Congress should reject broad assertions of secrecy so that the whole body politic can participate in securing our country from all threats.
There is also the worry about violations or abuses of civil liberties while obtaining intelligence on threats. Government has a history of abusing powers granted in the name of security, such as the abuses of the USA PATRIOT Act where there are over 1,000 instances where the FBI obtained information beyond what it was allowed to collect, but they kept it anyway instead of destroying it. Another example is the 763 “sneak-and-peak” warrants issued in FY 2008, but only three actually dealt with terrorism.
Don’t be fooled, this new program will be used for purposes beyond “national security.”