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Democratic computer security specialist Ira Winkler is disgusted over the Senate Judiciary Committee memo controversy — not with Republicans, but with his own party. As he explains, there was no “hacking” or stealth effort to access the files. They were left open for all to see: “This is not the electronic equivalent of physical breaking and entering, as it was portrayed by many senators and newspapers. What happened in the Senate Judiciary Committee was the electronic equivalent of leaving the files in the Capitol rotunda.”

Winkler argues Senate Democrats were extremely negligent in failing to protect their allegedly confidential files, even though federal law requires private companies to take affirmative steps to protect confidential material.

Not surprisingly, Congress has adopted laws for the private sector that it now ignores when concerning itself. The Economic Espionage Act requires information to be protected to the same extent that one seeks to classify it as a secret or claim legal protection. Given the outrage expressed by senators, it is clear they wanted the information to be secret. But if information is left as unprotected in public or healthcare-related businesses as it was by the Democrats, corporate executives could be heavily fined or go to jail under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), Sarbanes-Oxley, or GLBA (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) regulations.

While concern over political ethics in the Senate is important, it is a non-issue compared to this poster child for gross negligence in computer-security. Senators want to shun basic responsibilities that they impose on the private sector by making scapegoats over borderline ethical issues, instead of taking responsibility for the negligence this story tells. The public should be outraged that the Senate has spent hundreds of hours and countless dollars deflecting blame when inexpensive measures could have been easily taken. This story isn’t Memogate.

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Emergency response:

Because of a family conflict of interest (which I’m not going to discuss further, but I’ll note that there is one) I haven’t blogged much about what’s sometimes called the “War on Science.” ( I have written here, at TNR, registration required, on the general category of ‘gag rules’ of which several of the ‘war on science’ cases are a subset.)

The items in this indictment include: a scare campaign against NIH for funding studies about things that offend the sensibilities of Focus on the Family (for example, studies that try to understand sexual practices and decisions among prostitutes– something that one might think well worth studying in order to figure out how to slow or disrupt the vectors of HIV transmission); pressuring the CDC to back off of support for condoms as part of HIV-prevention; and pressuring the National Cancer Institute to give credence to the scientifically-unsupported claim of a link between abortion and cancer. This isn’t the first administration to meddle in scientific review processes for political purposes, but the current administration’s version is particuarly worrisome. It’s concentrated on public health in general and reproductive health in particular, interfering with the ability of public policy to deal honestly and competently with AIDS in particular.

Now, strict libertarian principle (or even strict Rawlsian-neutralist liberal principles) might tell us that state funding of research is a bad idea, but doesn’t give us any guidance as to how it should be structured if it exists. My view is something like this: if state funding of research is justified, it has to be because of the value of getting good science and good research. That requires that the programs, to have merit, have to be insulated as much as possible from political interference and left free to pursue good science. The basic [...]

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