Heather Ginsberg
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The U.S. Government has decided to expand a program that scans Internet traffic in and out of defense contractors to include more private, civilian-run operations. Now more private sector employees will have their emails and Internet activities scanned. Those affected include big banks, utilities and transportation companies.

Under last month's White House executive order on cybersecurity, the scans will be driven by classified information provided by U.S. intelligence agencies — including data from the National Security Agency (NSA) — on new or especially serious espionage threats and other hacking attempts. U.S. spy chiefs said on March 12 that cyber attacks have supplanted terrorism as the top threat to the country.

The Department of Homeland Security will gather the secret data and pass it to a small group of telecommunication companies and cyber security providers that have employees holding security clearances, government and industry officials said. Those companies will then offer to process email and other Internet transmissions for critical infrastructure customers that choose to participate in the program.

This is a great way for the Obama administration to use DHS as a middleman in this whole operation. This brings these types of intelligence gathering tactics closer to the average American, but it is far enough under the radar that most likely we won’t see a huge outcry from privacy groups asking about this program.

The telecom companies won’t report to the government except in extreme circumstances.

The administration is separately seeking legislation that would give incentives to private companies, including communications carriers, to disclose more to the government. NSA Director General Keith Alexander said last week that NSA did not want personal data but Internet service providers could inform the government about malicious software they find and the Internet Protocol addresses they were sent to and from.

The program claims to try and cut down on cyber security espionage or attacks. The question now is whether you are willing to give up your Internet privacy in order to try and thwart overseas cyber espionage.

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Heather Ginsberg

Heather Ginsberg is Townhall's web editor and community manager. Follow her on Twitter

@HeatherGinsberg

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography