TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Interior Department Wants Computer Shutdown Reprieve

Interior Department Wants Computer Shutdown Reprieve

Jennifer Talhelm (
Fri, 21 Oct 2005 17:26:20 -0500

By JENNIFER TALHELM, Associated Press Writer

The Interior Department won a reprieve Friday from a judge's order to
disconnect from the Internet all computer systems with access to
accounts it manages for thousands of American Indians.

In a motion filed in federal courts, officials had said disconnecting
the computers would cause "massive injury to the public interest and
the operations of government."

An appellate court on Friday granted a stay allowing the department to
appeal the judge's ruling.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the shutdown on Thursday,
saying the department's computer security was so bad that hackers
could easily break into the system and access and manipulate the
Indians' account information.

He directed the department to disconnect all but those systems
necessary to protect from fire or threats to life, property or
national security.

Department officials say the order would affect as many as 6,000
computers across the country plus "an undetermined number" of others
with indirect access to trust information.

Lamberth's order was much more extensive than his previous opinions,
which required the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other Indian agencies
to go off-line to protect trust data.

In an almost 10-year-old class-action lawsuit, American Indians
contend the government has cheated them out of more than $100 billion
by mismanaging oil, gas, timber and other royalties on their land
since 1887. A major issue in the case is whether the government has
kept accurate and secure trust data.

Lamberth has frequently tangled with the department in the case,
harshly criticizing its treatment of American Indians' trusts.

On Thursday, he wrote that during tests, government-contracted
computer experts were able to access several Interior Department
computer systems for days at a time.

The government argues there is no evidence that any accounts have been
hacked or that the damage would be irreparable if they were.

Interior officials say they are continuing to work to improve computer

Also on Friday, House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo,
R-Calif., announced that in light of Lamberth's ruling, he would join
senators working to settle the trust case.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who lead the
Senate Indian Affairs Committee, proposed legislation last summer to
resolve the case.

Their bill does not specify a settlement amount. The plaintiffs had
offered to settle for $27.5 billion, an amount lawmakers say is too

Pombo said the lawsuit alerted the government of a problem that needed
to be solved.

"Unfortunately, it has taken on a life of its own with a potential to
cost billions of dollars on attorneys and accountants and very little
for the Indians the lawsuit was supposed to benefit," he said. "It's
time for Congress to assert its plenary authority over Indian affairs
and give the individual Indians their due."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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