New law cites hackers as terrorists
By John Yaukey
Gannett News Service
Before Sept. 11, if you were clever enough to infiltrate a federal computer network, you were considered a hacker.
Following the recent passage of the USA Act, which grants law enforcement sweeping new powers to investigate and prosecute potential threats to national security, you could be labeled a cyberterrorist and face up to 20 years in prison.
The new legislation, passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law, is especially aggressive in the way it permits authorities to go after targets online.
"I think that's going to make a lot of the hackers out there at least pause and think before they act," said Elgin K., a self-described former "white-hat" hacker who claims to have been associated with a controversial computing group called the Cult of the Dead Cow. "On the flip side, there are probably a few demented souls out there who will find that an added attraction."
The bill also grants law enforcement unprecedented freedom to eavesdrop with special computer software on all forms of electronic communications and online activity in great detail.
The danger in all this, say privacy advocates and government watchdog groups, is the potential for "gray area" abuse.
For example, is it abuse if the government tracks your e-mail simply because you have an Arabic name and you've been critical of U.S. policy online? Or is a 17-year-old who hacks a federal Web site a terrorist?
Some of the other major provisions in the legislation governing electronic communications:
Investigators are now able to tap all types of electronic communications, including e-mail and Web surfing, with a single order from a judge instead of separate orders.
Any U.S. attorney can allow the use of the FBI's controversial Carnivore snooping technology, which can record Web pages visited and scan e-mail messages, without going to a judge.
Internet service providers (ISPs) and telephone companies are required to hand over all customer information without a court order if the FBI deems it "relevant to an authorized investigation." ISPs also are forbidden from disclosing to customers that they are being investigated.