Over at TLF, Tim Lee posts about the InfraGard brouhaha, which started with an article by Matt Rothschild over at the Progressive, and also generated a post over at the Future of Freedom Foundation, a libertarian think tank. When the Progressive and a libertarian think tank both agree something is dangerous, it’s got to be interesting to find out why two so very different groups agree.
I find Tim Lee strangely trusting in his post which says:
Is InfraGard a Privacy Threat?
Gary D. Barnett at the Libertarian Future of Freedom Foundation sounds the alarm about InfraGard, a collaboration between the FBI and private-sector people interested in security. Barnett paints InfraGard as a sinister effort by the FBI to get private information about American citizens.
Jim Lippard has a different perspective, explaining in some detail what InfraGard does, and convincing me, at least, that there’s nothing especially sinister going on. It’s perfectly legitimate for law enforcement to cooperate with the private sector to inform one another of potential security threats. Obviously, companies shouldn’t disclose their customers’ private information without a warrant, but Barnett offers no evidence that companies do that as part of InfraGard. It’s great that Barnett is working to ferret out potential threats to Americans’ privacy, but it looks like he might have raised the alarm prematurely in this case.
I’m surprised Tim seems to trust big government, giving them a ‘free pass’ to create an entity that’s designed to avoid oversight, and is potentially very powerful. And so my response (edited for grammar and clarity) is:
I have to say that there is not enough specific information available in either of the two articles which you link to, nor in the article in the Progressive, to make a determination that InfraGard is either innocuous or effective.
It does clearly bear watching, and the fact that information sharing among so many organizations and government agencies combines to create a very powerful entity causes me concern.
Further, by creating a not-for-profit that is technically not part of the government, InfraGard appears to have been deliberately designed to avoid transparency and oversight which would normally be required of a government body.
When a new powerful body is created, that is exempt from our time-tested system of checks and balances, where does the burden of proof lie, with those who advocate this organization, or with those who question it?
I would say the burden of proof should lie with those who have advocate it.
The union of large corporations and large government should be suspicious, especially given the open ended nature of their (self-appointed) mandate, e.g.:
Infragard members gain access to information that enables them to protect their assets and in turn give information to government that facilitates its responsibilities to prevent and address terrorism and other crimes.
So, are they sharing information about private citizens whom the FBI deems to be a threat? If so, what safeguards are in place to prevent ‘threats’ from being anyone the government doesn’t like?
Given this administration’s record, prudent caution, rather than unconditional and unwarranted trust, should be the guiding principle.
The ‘and other crimes’ seems to be a recipe for the creation of a corporate vigilante system. And we’ve seem corporations try to legalize this type of a system before.
Further questions I’ve had after my post are:
What types of information are being shared?
What are the range of InfraGard’s activities? Their website talks about ‘critical infrastructure protection’ but then looking at the Gary Barnett’s article, it appears that critical infrastructure means quite a lot:
One question on InfraGard’s application for membership is, Which critical infrastructures does your organization belong to? Some choices listed are defense, government, banking and finance, information and telecommunications, postal and shipping, transportation, public health, and energy. At least 350 of the Fortune 500 companies have representation in InfraGard, this according to their website. These representatives have access to most of our private records, including phone and Internet use, health records, and banking and finance records. Considering the recent attempts by President Bush and his administration to protect many telecommunications companies and executives from prosecution for releasing private information, how many of the top telecom executives are members of InfraGard? I, for one, would be very interested in this information, but alas, it is not public information; it is secret.
According to InfraGard’s own policies and procedures,
The interests of InfraGard must be protected whenever presented to non-InfraGard members. Independent of the type of presentation, (interview, brief, or published documentation) the InfraGard leadership and the local FBI representative should be made aware of the upcoming presentation. The InfraGard member and the FBI representative should agree on the theme of the presentation. The identity of InfraGard members should be protected at all times.
This means that no one outside InfraGard is to know who is a member unless previous approval has been given.
What types of organizations are outgrowths of InfraGard? It appears that at least one chapter feels they can form some sort of militia.
Why should InfraGard have better and more timely information than government officials or local government bodies?
What law gives the FBI the authority to distribute certain ‘sensitive’ information outside of the government, and withhold that information from the general population?
All good questions, but where are the answers?