Intelligence bill grants feds new computer security powers

The Senate this week voted unanimously to pass the fiscal 2000 Intelligence Authorization Act, which would provide federal law enforcement officials new authority to search government computers belonging to individuals who have access to classified information.

The new computer security provision comes in the wake of reports of espionage by China at the nation's nuclear laboratories and was part of a larger effort by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to improve government counterintelligence procedures.

According to Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the bill requires employees who need access to classified information to sign a waiver allowing law enforcement officials to "access information stored in computers used in the performance of government duties." The provision is aimed specifically at enhancing the FBI's ability to investigate cases of possible espionage sooner rather than later.

The thorny issue of granting access to government computers for the purposes of investigating wrongdoing came into the limelight last month when officials at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency allegedly attempted to access the computer belonging to a senior technology trade advisor as he testified before Congress [FCW, July 19, 1999].

"This provision is intended to avoid the problems we have seen with the FBI's reluctance to access 'government' computers without a warrant in the course of an espionage investigation," Shelby said. "There should be no question that investigative agencies may search the computer of an individual with access to classified information."

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