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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
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