As the FBI pushes for greater remote hacking powers and greater secrecy surrounding its massive biometrics database, ongoing cyber attacks raise concerns that, even as federal law enforcement hopes to increase its offensive capabilities, government agencies have not focused nearly enough on cyber defense.
With the presidential election dominating the news cycle, cyber security issues have been highlighted over the last few months in relation to the ongoing Hillary Clinton email debacle. While Clinton’s private server has generated attention, though, it is far from the first case of government officials or agencies failing to do enough to protect cyber security.
The latest in this series of major failures by a government that prides itself on being able to protect “national security” involves this week’s revelations about the Federal Reserve, which has reportedly been hacked more than 50 times since 2011, including several incidents of “espionage.”
According to Reuters, the records showing 51 security breaches “represent only a slice of all cyber attacks on the Fed because they include only cases involving the Washington-based Board of Governors, a federal agency that is subject to public records laws.” In response to revelations of the Fed hacks, a congressional investigation has reportedly been launched.
It is not the case that the government has been doing nothing at all to improve cyber security for its myriad agencies.
Earlier this year, for example, a new agency known as the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) was created within the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which will outsource its cyber security needs to the Department of Defense.
“Those changes resulted from an internal review after breaches announced a year ago of OPM’s security clearance database, resulting in the theft of personal information on some 21 million current and former federal employees, military and contractor personnel and others on whom the government had performed background checks since about 2000,” reports the Washington Post. “There also was a separate breach of a federal personnel database.”
The White House has also proposed a “Cybersecurity National Action Plan,” with hopes of receiving $19 billion in additional cyber defense funding.
Despite these efforts, it is clear that more needs to be done, as revelations of data breaches at government agencies continue. Indeed, a cynic might describe these latest proposed solutions as little more than bureaucratic reshuffling and throwing money at the problem.
In the context of the ongoing presidential election cycle, candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both called for increased surveillance. Despite the theft of sensitive data from numerous government agencies, in many cases by known or suspected agents of foreign governments, powerful federal agencies like the FBI continue pushing to expand and shroud in secrecy massive databases of personal information on Americans.
The debate over mass surveillance should not solely be framed by questions of balancing security and civil liberties concerns, although those concerns are far from invalid. In an information age, a digital age, and an age of rampant hacking and fast-paced technological developments, privacy and security are not mutually exclusive concerns. It increasingly appears that we can’t have one without the other.
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