What to Make of NSA Monitoring Program 'Perfect Citizen'

Are they after your precious bodily fluids?

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The National Security Agency is launching a surveillance program called "Perfect Citizen." The Wall Street Journal reports that the program is designed to "detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and nuclear-power plants." One internal email within Raytheon, the private contractor running Perfect Citizen, declared that"Perfect Citizen is Big Brother." Is this an important tool in protecting vital U.S. infrastructure from cyber attack or a step too far for the ever-expanding surveillance state?

  • Military and Intelligence Defend Program The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman reports, "A U.S. military official called the program long overdue and said any intrusion into privacy is no greater than what the public already endures from traffic cameras. It's a logical extension of the work federal agencies have done in the past to protect physical attacks on critical infrastructure that could sabotage the government or key parts of the country, the official said. U.S. intelligence officials have grown increasingly alarmed about what they believe to be Chinese and Russian surveillance of computer systems that control the electric grid and other U.S. infrastructure. Officials are unable to describe the full scope of the problem, however, because they have had limited ability to pull together all the private data."
  • Why Congress Should Make This Public Tech Liberation's Jim Harper explains, "If there is to be a federal government role in securing the Internet from cyberattacks, there is no good reason why its main components should not be publicly known and openly debated. Small parts, like threat signatures and such--the unique characteristics of new attacks--might be appropriately kept secret, but no favor is done to any potential attackers by revealing that there is a system for detecting their activities. A cybersecurity effort that is not tested by public oversight will be weaker than ones that are scrutinzed by private-sector experts, academics, security vendors, and watchdog groups."
  • Another Stab at 'Total Information Awareness'? TechDirt's Mike Masnick writes, "Recalling the old plans for the 'Total Information Awareness' system from nearly a decade ago (which eventually was scrapped -- at least publicly -- after widespread outrage), apparently the NSA is setting up a top secret new internet surveillance program with the ominously creepy name 'Perfect Citizen.' The NSA, of course, is quick to claim that the program is just for 'research' purposes, to assess vulnerabilities and capabilities, but not everyone is buying that explanation."
  • Gov't Insiders Push For Stronger Cybersecurity Wired's Ryan Singel points out, "Government insiders have recently been whipping up bureaucratic and public support for increased government funding for computer security. Former Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell convinced President Bush to sign a still-largely-secret computer-security plan in January 2008, after telling him that hackers going after the nation's banks could cause economic damage worse than the Sept. 11 attacks. Now back at a government-contracting business, McConnell was given space in The Washington Post to declare the nation was actually in the midst of a cyberwar that it was losing, without actually noting who the country was at war with or where the casualties were being treated."
  • The Worst Part Is Just The Name The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder calls it "a fairly innocuous public-private partnership aimed at helping companies that handle critical infrastructure and whose networks might be vulnerable." He laments the name and wonders why someone couldn't come up with something more innocuous like "brown desk." He agrees that the program shouldn't be so secret. "If the NSA hadn't classified this program, the thrust of the news would be: hey, government's doing something about cyber threats. Yay!"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.