US ATTACK: U.S. commission examines cyberterrorism

As the U.S. government begins to formulate policy in response to the terrorist attacks last week, it is faced with trying to heighten national security and preparedness while preserving American citizens' civil liberties. Government officials will likely find that balance particularly difficult to maintain when it comes to regulation and the Internet. This topic will be addressed in an upcoming report by a government commission that examines terrorism.

In light of last week's attacks, the National Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism plans to accelerate reporting its findings to both the Congress and the Office of the President, said its Chairman James Gilmore, a Republican who is governor of Virginia. During a press conference here Monday, Gilmore said that the panel will meet on September 24 to finalize its recommendations and set a closer delivery date for the report, originally scheduled for release to the government in December.

Those recommendations in part will arise from the panel's analysis of the impact of cyberterrorism on the United States, including related issues such as how a disabled communications infrastructure would affect information flow in a conventional attack, Gilmore said.

Yet when it comes to suggesting preventative measures, Gilmore acknowledged that regulation would be hard to set and enforce because of the global nature of the Internet and because much of its value comes from the free flow of communication that it fosters. "It's very difficult to regulate the Internet," he said.

The government must be careful not to forsake its citizens' civil rights -- such as free speech, of which the Internet is a symbol -- when setting new policy, Gilmore added. "It has been the consistent position of this commission that Americans should not be asked to give up their civil liberties."

The panel has not yet examined specific technology designed to help flag terrorist activity on the Internet -- such as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's Carnivore system that monitors Internet communication -- said another member of the panel, former Secretary of the Army John Marsh. He added that the panel's work is not yet completed, but doubted that its report would make recommendations that are as specific as naming certain technologies. "Many of these are congressional issues," he added.

The National Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism was assembled in 1999 with a three-year life span and has issued two reports to date. In the third report, Gilmore said recommendations will cover, among other things, the response abilities of health and medical groups, U.S. border security issues, and an emphasis on state and local roles in a national emergency.

More information on the panel can be found at the Web site of its research partner, the Rand Institute, at

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