According to an article published at the SecurityFocus site, one of the provisions of the Justice Department's new Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) would categorize violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as "federal terrorism offenses." This means that offenders could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. In addition, the Act could be enforced retroactively, meaning that computer crimes from many years ago could be successfully prosecuted today. Those convicted of providing advice or assistance could also be prosecuted in the same manner.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has stated publicly: "I don't believe that our definition of terrorism is so broad. It is broad enough to include
things like assaults on computers, and assaults designed to change the purpose of government."
This is far from the only disturbing development that has occurred since the terrorist attacks of September 11. Numerous polls indicate that the majority of Americans are in favor of some sort of government control of encryption. And a story in today's Newsday quotes a poll claiming a third of New Yorkers favor establishing internment camps for anyone the government defines as being sympathetic to "terrorist causes."
The potential harm here becomes clear when considering how broadly "terrorism" is being defined. It seems that rather than recognize how absurd it has been over the years to classify hackers as even being remotely close to terrorists, the authorities intend to solidify this warped definition. And that could amount to a blank check for those in authority intent on imprisoning anyone they find to be a nuisance and for those particularly interested in quelling dissenting speech of any sort.
If this kind of thing is not stopped in its tracks, we might as well start waving white flags and surrendering to the terrorists because they will have won a resounding victory. Those who would use the tragic events of September 11 to create repression will do far more lasting harm to our society than any terrorist ever could. And those of us who allow it to happen will bear a good deal of the responsibility.
Security Focus story
EFF statement on the ATA
EPIC statement on the ATA