|Volume 2, #3||The Scientist ||February 08, 1988|
Law Sets Nonmilitary Data Rules
Date: FEBRUARY 08, 1988
Washington - A new law gives a civilian agency the authority to set standards on access to unclassified data, including scientific and technical information. The law ends a long debate over how to protect certain types of computerized data and wrests control of such decisions from the military. "We're very pleased," said Kenneth B. Allen, senior vice president of government relations for the Information Industry Association "It's a good piece of legislation. It doesn't address all of our concerns but it's a tremendous step forward."
The law, called the Computer Security Act of 1987, passed The House last June after Frank Carlucci, then national security adviser, rescinded a 1984 administration memorandum to create a new category of "sensitive but unclassified" information. (See THE SCIENTIST November 30, 1987, p. 1). The Senate approved the measure on a floor vote shortly before adjourning last month; and on January, 8 President Reagan signed the bill.
Administration officials initially opposed HR 145 because of fears that foreign intelligence agents could piece together national security secrets from information in unclassified computer databases. Many scientists and politicians; however, feared the 1984 memorandum would allow the government to restrict access to unclassified information contained in such commercial data bases as Mead Data Central's Nexis/Lexis and in libraries.
The new law orders the National Bureau of Standards to set rules on civilian computer security. The Pentagon's National Security Agency is relegated to an advisory role but retains authority over standards for classified systems.
Other aspects of the administration's information policies will be examined in the next few weeks at hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on technology and law. Of continuing concern are efforts to restrict presentations at scientific symposia and the impact of such policies on the country's worldwide economic position.
Agres is assistant managing editor at The Washington Times.