Morning Security Brief: Government Seeks Wiretap Powers, New Suspect Charged in Ricin Case, and More
A government task force is drafting legislation to allow real-time interception of online communications, another suspect is arrested in the ricin case, and a government employee may pursue his whistleblower case against the Department of Homeland Security.
► According to an article in The Washington Post, a government task force is drafting legislation that would allow law enforcement to intercept online communications in real time. Based on concerns that the FBI is unable to read the online communications of terrorists, the legislation would allow the government to pressure companies such as Facebook or Google to intercept online communications by imposing a series of escalating fines on companies that refuse to comply with government orders. Privacy proponents have already come out against the proposed legislation. Some computer security experts are also opposed, noting that building in an intercept capability will make systems more vulnerable to hacking.
► Charges have been issued against J. Everett Dutschke, a Mississippi man who has been arrested on suspicion of sending letters containing ricin to Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and to President Barack Obama. Dutschke is the second person to be arrested in the case; the first, Paul Kevin Curtis, was released last week. Law enforcement officials cite a longstanding feud between Dutschke and Curtis and suspect that Dutschke wrote the letters with the intent to frame Curtis for the crime. According to a story in The New York Times, Dutschke has been charged with “developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining, and possessing a biological agent” for use as a weapon.
► A federal appeals court has ruled that Robert MacLean, a former government employee, may pursue his whistleblower case against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). When Robert MacLean was a federal air marshal in 2003, he complained to his supervisor and then to the press after flights were not required to have air marshals despite intelligence that there was a potential plot to hijack U.S. airliners. MacLean felt that the DHS directive to cancel the requirement for the air marshals to be on the flights put the public in danger. After the DHS learned that MacLean had gone to the press, the agency fired him on the grounds that he disclosed sensitive security information (SSI). MacLean filed a lawsuit arguing that the information was not classified as SSI at the time he disclosed it and, therefore, the disclosure was a protected whistleblower activity. The court found in favor of DHS, ruling that the agency could retroactively classify the information as SSI. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit disagreed, vacating and remanding the lower court’s decision. MacLean, ruled the court, should be allowed to pursue his case because several issues remain unsettled. For example, the court noted that “it remains to be determined whether Mr. MacLean reasonably believed that the content of his disclosure evidenced a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.”