Technology

Ashcroft, Ellison, Win 'Big Brother' Awards


Last December attorney general John Ashcroft, testifying at a Senate

hearing, accused privacy advocates and civil libertarians of aiding

terrorists by scaring "peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty."

On Thursday, a large U.S. gathering of those critics responded in their own

way: by giving Ashcroft the "Worst Government Official" nod at the annual

Big Brother Awards.

"I take this nomination seriously, because it's been 20 or 30 years since

I've been called treasonous," said ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt,

announcing Ashcroft's win before a friendly audience of cypherpunks, civil

libertarians and electronic privacy fans at the 12th annual Computers,

Freedom and Privacy conference in San Francisco.

Privacy International, a London-based non-profit advocacy group, hands out

the awards each year to honor people and organizations that have done the

most to harm personal privacy in the U.S., in the judgment of a ten-person

panel drawn from a various privacy groups. David Banisar, Privacy

International's U.S. director [and a SecurityFocus Online columnist], acted

as master of ceremonies at the tongue-in-cheek award show.

In addition to charging administration critics with helping terror, Ashcroft

was picked out for the controversial USA PATRIOT Act, and for the increased

domestic surveillance and immigration sweeps that followed the terrorist

attacks of September 11.

Like many of the heated panel discussions and debates at the four-day

conference, government and private industry's response to terrorism drove

the event.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison won "Worst Corporate Invader" for his vocal

advocacy of a national identification card backed by Oracle database

software. A proposal to pre-screen airline passengers by tying together

credit reporting systems and purchase histories won "Most Heinous Project."

Iran-Contra conspirator John Poindexter was given the "Lifetime Menace

Award." Poindexter heads DARPA's new Information Awareness Office, created

in January to develop data mining technology.

Not-surprisingly, none of the award recipients were present to accept their

trophies -- gold-colored statuettes depicting a human head being crushed

under a jackboot.

Privacy International also gave out two serious, pro-privacy Brandeis

Awards, named for the Supreme Court Justice who wrote that privacy is "the

right to be left alone." One Brandeis went to California senator Jackie

Speier for spearheading financial privacy legislation. The second went to

Warren Leech, a private citizen who played a driving role in consumers

winning the right to examine, and correct errors in, their credit reports. By Kevin Poulsen


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