House panel blocks computer monitoring plan

House panel blocks computer monitoring plan

The House Appropriations Committee approved a measure Friday that would prohibit funding for a controversial plan to monitor all federal computer networks and guard against possible attacks from hackers and other intruders.

The language was included in fiscal year 2000 spending bill funding the Commerce, Justice and State Departments. The language would prohibit any of the funding in the legislation from being used for the Federal Intrusion Detection Network (FIDNET), the creation of which was called for in a draft plan prepared by the National Security Council.

The bill, which would provide $35.8 billion in discretionary spending, was approved by voice vote.

Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. "Bill" Young, R-Fla., said he hoped the House would take up the measure next week before lawmakers leave for their August break.

The FIDNET plan, which came to light earlier this week, calls for creating a system for the collection of data on computer networks in an effort to aid government security officials in tracking patterns that might help them detect intrusions into government networks. Even though White House officials insisted that FIDNET would not be used to monitor private networks, privacy advocates expressed concerns about the plan's potential reach.

Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said while he is pleased the committee has taken steps to prevent funding for FIDNET, he expressed concern that Congress has not done enough to monitor the privacy implications of the government's efforts to combat cyberterrorism.

"Congress has not only been sleeping, it's been out of town" on the issue, Rotenberg said. While Congress has become more aware of cyber privacy issues, he called for more congressional oversight on the government's efforts to protect its critical infrastructure.

However, privacy concerns were not the reasons that the Appropriations Committee cited in its report accompanying the bill for banning funds for FIDNET.

"The committee does not believe it appropriate to use Department of Justice resources to fund other federal agencies' computer intrusion and detection systems, but instead believes all federal agencies should make funding for this important activity a priority within their own budget," the committee report said.

Meanwhile, the committee also zeroed out funding for the Advanced Technology Program, which helps private industry develop high-risk technologies that can later be used for commercial purposes.

Long derided as corporate welfare, the program, operated by the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology, has been a target of budget hawks for several years. The Clinton administration asked for $238 million for the program in FY 2000. But the committee report said given the tight budget constraints the panel was under, it could not justify spending any money on a program of "questionable value."

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