Corporate data needs two-pronged protection

Stiffer defences are needed to protect corporate data against both illegal and official snoopers in the face of a newly-declared war on terrorism, civil libertarians warn.

"Problems that arise from extensions of police powers in times of crisis always come home to roost later," says Electronic Frontiers Australia chairman Kim Heitman.

"Companies should employ strong encryption on sensitive data to guard against both non-official and official intrusions into their networks."

There is no doubt the US terrorist attack has primed legislators in favour of harsher online surveillance laws.

Parliamentary debate over the Cybercrime Bill 2001, set to start September 24, will hand the Government an opportunity to move in that direction.

US Senators have already pushed through broader use of Internet tapping, including use of the FBI's controversial Carnivore e-mail surveillance system, in the Combating Terrorism Act of 2001.

"Any government spin that we need these new powers to fight terrorism will go a long way," predicts Heitman.

"But there is no evidence that Internet tapping would have had any impact at all on the New York attack.

"Just because we are moving onto a war footing doesn't mean martial law should be imposed on the Internet."

What he callS "regulation creep" means powers meant to be used for serious crimes often end up being turned against lesser offenders, Heitman said.

"In the current climate, regulation creep could easily turn into regulation gallop."

Meanwhile, lost in the noise of the New York attack was a European Parliament report condemning the shadowy Echelon spy network of which Australia is allegedly a member.

Four days before the terrorist attack, the European Parliament accepted a 140-page report confirming Echelon's existence despite US official denials.

Echelon is the term used for an automated global electronic communications interception program operated by intelligence agencies in five nations: US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It is said to involve the Australian Defence Signals Directorate and the US National Security Agency.

After a seven-month investigation, the European report found "clear evidence" that Echelon exists.

Supporting fears that Echelon deals in industrial espionage, the report stated Echelon's primary purpose was to intercept private and commercial communications, not military intelligence.

The Parliament reacted to the report by voting to adopt counter measures, including setting up a European Union encryption system to guard against Echelon.

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