Where is the Left on Cybercrime?

Electronic identity theft is the greatest consumer protection issue of our time, according to the Federal Trade Commission statistics, and the poor suffer disproportionately.
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As the writer of an investigative thriller about the fight against the most powerful figures in cybercrime, (Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords who are Bringing Down the Internet), I take good press where I can get it.

So when the secular Bible of the Right, the National Review, called my new book "brilliant and disturbing," that was brilliant.

But also disturbing, in that it pointed up the fact that advocates for the views of half the country or more seem missing in action. Electronic identity theft is the greatest consumer protection issue of our time, according to the Federal Trade Commission statistics, and the poor suffer disproportionately. Serious data-protection bills have gone nowhere, even after the 2005 ChoicePoint breach.

The main draw for the Right is my work showing that the Russians and Chinese are collaborating with organized crime groups that are on the brink of driving the Internet as we know it out of existence.

A fresh excerpt of the book has just been posted at Zocalo Public Square, a nonprofit that is hosting a public talk and reception for me on Tuesday April 27 in downtown Los Angeles. The excerpt shows what happened when crack UK detective Andy Crocker, who probably got further inside the Russian criminal justice system than any Westerner in a decade, tried to pursue the suspected cybercrime mastermind known as King Arthur.

The bottom line is that King Arthur and others are being protected by the FSB, the Russian spy agency that replaced the KGB and now essentially runs the country, which uses such men for cyber-attacks on such Kremlin foes as the governments of Georgia and Estonia.
So OK, Russia and China are up to very seriously no-good things online, and I agree with the conservatives that we need to call them on it and take action.

But if we want to engage in scapegoating as a prelude to tackling the massive problem of Internet insecurity, there is plenty of blame closer to home. As detailed in my book and that released this week by former Bush cyberterror czar Richard Clarke, the previous administration was so allergic to regulation that it ignored the increasingly desperate calls by private technology leaders for a stronger role by Washington in protecting our infrastructure.

Software companies have dodged legal liability for peddling unbelievably unsafe programs, while banks have misled customers into believing that online transactions are as safe as the old-fashioned kind. They are just starting to reap the fruits of those policies with lawsuits filed by businesses that have had their accounts sucked dry by Eastern European mobsters.
If liberals are unwilling to beat up on big banking at a time like this, they are either not paying attention or are on some national work-stoppage.

Far more important than the finger-pointing, though, it is what happens after. A number of bills are already moving through Congress that would take steps to punish countries that harbor cyber-criminals and mandate cooperation between US intelligence agencies and the private operators of critical utilities that have been targeted by foreign cyber-spies.

These are still early days in what will be a long and vital discussion. It's unclear what else the conservatives want, though I would guess that an increased domestic role for the National Security Agency and attempts to track individuals by their computer use are on the wish list.

The Left should have a list of its own, including an overall privacy act, new banking regulations, requirements that government contractors deliver safer technology, and urgent research and development funding.

But if liberals don't speak up soon, they risk letting their domestic opponents control the debate, and that would be mistake.

So where is everybody?

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