Tim Lee suddenly trusts big government?

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:

Tim:

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?

Tim Lee suddenly trusts big government?

4 thoughts on “Tim Lee suddenly trusts big government?

  1. “What types of organizations are outgrowths of InfraGard? It appears that at least one chapter feels they can form some sort of militia.”

    What chapter is that? Are you referring to The Progressive’s claims? If so, I believe your statement is based on false inferences. I am unaware of any InfraGard chapters that “feel they can form some sort of militia”–I think that’s nonsense.

    I don’t know of any organizations which are “outgrowths of InfraGard.”

    “Why should InfraGard have better and more timely information than government officials or local government bodies?”

    In general, I doubt that it does–but it does facilitate private organizations sharing information directly with each other, or providing information in expurgated form to be redistributed to other InfraGard members without identifying themselves.

    “What law gives the FBI the authority to distribute certain ’sensitive’ information outside of the government, and withhold that information from the general population?”

    I’m not a lawyer, but I believe the answer is the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Section 201(g):
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/deptofhomeland/analysis/title2.html#201

    Note that the main security bulletins for InfraGard are composed primarily of publicly sourced material; others may contain information from other InfraGard members, expurgated to remove identifying details. Distribution is via the InfraGard VPN and website, which is provided by Louisiana State University under contract with DHS, rather than via the FBI. In general, law enforcement has a right to contact potential victims of crimes to warn them of specific threats without notifying the general public or the press.

    I’ve written responses to both Barnett’s article and Rothschild’s. Barnett’s is far better than Rothschild’s, but still makes a number of factual mistakes. I’ve included the link to my response to Barnett as my “website” for this comment, and my response to Rothschild can be found in the link on the words “the Progressive article” in the first paragraph of that.

  2. BTW, I don’t think Tim’s giving government a free pass, rather, I think he’s dismissing the accuracy of the charges from Rothschild and Barnett.

    I know *I’m* not giving government a free pass–I’m correcting misinformation.

    You write that InfraGard is “a new powerful body” and “a very powerful entity.” On the basis of what do you say this? What powers are you referring to?

  3. Jim:

    Thanks for your comments. To be clear, I am not saying InfraGard is abusing anything–just that it should be subject to scrutiny and oversight, and that its design as a not for profit eliminates some of the possibilities for oversight, that would occur if it were a government agency.

    To clarify when you say: “You write that InfraGard is “a new powerful body” and “a very powerful entity.” On the basis of what do you say this? What powers are you referring to?”

    I would refer you to what I actually said, which is:“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.”

    So, I am just saying that’s it is prudent to question the motives, and to require transparency. I wouldn’t say that transparency has to be perfect, of course.

    One of the most interesting revelations of Farenheit 911 was that the FBI is spying on peaceful antiwar groups. It seems that they have the attitude that if your not a Republican, you’re pretty close to being a traitor. Given that the FBI has data on antiwar activities, it’s entirely possible they would use the InfraGard forum to disperse information about a citizen’s lawful first amendment activities, and this information could have negative consequences for that individual’s career.

    My conclusion regarding the potential power of this organization stems from it’s size (300+ of fortune 500, + the FBI’s information) and it’s apparently broad mandate with it’s open ended phrases like “terrorism and other crimes” that when coupled with the lack of any effective means for oversight, should raise concerns. There is too much potential for abuse, potential that governments don’t have a track record of neglecting for very long.

    Incidently, several of your responses don’t really answer Barnett’s concerns, for example you state: “Third, there’s no need to guess about the “other crimes.” and then you link to ten items from the FBI’s priorities statement, which are all very vague, and open ended, i.e.:

    In executing the following priorities, we will produce and use intelligence to protect the nation from threats and to bring to justice those who violate the law.
    1. Protect the United States from terrorist attack.
    2. Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage.
    3. Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes.
    4. Combat public corruption at all levels.
    5. Protect civil rights.
    6. Combat transnational and national criminal organizations and enterprises.
    7. Combat major white-collar crime.
    8. Combat significant violent crime.
    9. Support federal, state, county, municipal, and international partners.
    10. Upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI’s mission.

    I think a very reasonable start to making InfraGard more functional and less of a threat to civil liberties is a clearly defined and sharply limited mandate. Protecting critical infrastructure is good certainly, but it can’t become an not for profit umbrella under which actions that would not otherwise be legal take place.

    I think the scenario I describe above about InfraGard disseminating information regarding the lawful activities of citizens is plausible and a cause for a concern. How would you protect against such abuses?

    Given InfraGard’s ability to avoid oversight and aggregate a group of powerful institutions, do you see no cause for concern?

    ACLU’s point below, for example, I don’t see addressed in your post:

    “There is evidence that InfraGard may be closer to a corporate TIPS program, turning private-sector corporations—some of which may be in a position to observe the activities of millions of individual customers—into surrogate eyes and ears for the FBI,” the ACLU warned in its August 2004 report The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government Is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society.”

  4. I do think it’s reasonable to have concerns about the possibility of abuse, specifically on the spying issue–I commented on that at some length in my response to Rothschild. But if InfraGard were to be used as a vehicle for spying on individual Americans, I don’t think that would work very well given the way that it is organized–easy to join, and where the multiple private participants and board members can act as a check on each other and on the FBI. It would be easier for government to have separate individual connections with each company (or individuals in those companies), out of the view of anyone else, in which case InfraGard wouldn’t be the vehicle for spying, but simply a mechanism for identifying candidates.

    The cases of actual spying that we already know about have all been direct relationships rather than through a 501(c)(3) membership organization, such as AT&T’s warrantless interceptions through its contractual relationships with the NSA.

    InfraGard is subject to the same laws as any other organization. Its members and officers are subject to criminal and civil prosecution if they violate the law. You’re absolutely correct that InfraGard must not “become a not for profit umbrella under which actions that would not otherwise be legal take place.”

    You write, regarding Fahrenheit 911, “It seems that they have the attitude that is your not a Republican, you’re pretty close to being a traitor.” There’s no question that government agencies can be abused by people in power–the CIA’s history, as well as the FBI’s, has illustrated examples of that. While law enforcement officers probably lean pretty heavily conservative and Republican as a group, I’ve met a number of people in law enforcement and at the DoJ who are very strong and vocal supporters of liberty and civil rights (and very unhappy with the current administration). My political views haven’t (yet) caused any problems for me in InfraGard. I think it helps that IT people and Internet techie types tend to be libertarian or liberal, in my experience.

    You’re right that the FBI priorities statement isn’t as specific as a list of individual crimes. But they can’t take any enforcement action with response to anything on that list unless there is an appropriate specific federal crime associated with it. My experience is almost wholly associated with #3 on the list, and there are specific criteria which need to be met in order for the FBI to be able to bring a case to a prosecutor.

    Regarding the “300+ of the Fortune 500”–that just means that there is at least one person from each of those 300+ who is a member of some InfraGard chapter.

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