GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT Horizon

by / April 22, 2003
Urging Partnerships Among Local Governments
ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is urging local governments to consolidate some services to address dire fiscal problems facing municipalities across the state.

At the annual meeting of the New York State Association of Towns and Villages, Spitzer released a 43-page publication -- Making Government Work: Intergovernmental Cooperation, Partnering and Consolidation in New York State -- as a guide for cash-strapped local governments to provide essential services at lower cost.

"There are many ways local governments can work together," Spitzer said. "Such efforts can help reduce the cost of government and hold down or possibly reduce burdens on taxpayers."

Like other states, New York's municipalities face serious fiscal challenges due to declining tax bases, increased demands for services, and reduced aid from state and federal sources.

Spitzer said under state law, municipalities have broad powers to jointly undertake any activity or service each participant has the power to provide separately.

"Unfortunately, the uncertainty regarding the limits state law places on consolidation and intergovernmental cooperation often becomes an obstacle to changing the way local governments operate," Spitzer said.

The new booklet prepared by Spitzer's office summarizes the key areas of law that govern intergovernmental cooperation and consolidation. It also identifies several dozen examples of successful cooperation and consolidation efforts throughout New York, including the formation of purchasing cooperatives for office supplies and merging code enforcement units. -- Attorney General Eliot Spitzer

Vermont Bookstore Says "No"
MONTPELIER, Vt. -- In protest of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the owner of Bear Pond Books told its customers that all titles listed in Readers' Club accounts have been deleted from the company's computer.

The bookstore is in the process of updating its Readers' Club software so only the amount of the sale is kept as a record of any purchase.

Since information about the store's response to Section 215 -- which allows the FBI director to pursue access to records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to protect against terrorism -- appeared in an Associated Press article, the store has received more than 200 e-mails and many phone calls from around the country in support of its decision, according to the bookstore's Web site.

Booksellers and librarians around the country are expressing alarm over the potentially chilling effect of court orders issued under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the bookstore's Web site said, and they fear bookstore customers and library patrons will not feel free to buy or borrow the books they want if there is danger the police may obtain their records.

Vermont booksellers and librarians are circulating a letter urging the state's congressional delegation to repeal Section 215.

Unconstitutional and Unsound
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A 2002 Pennsylvania law that forces ISPs to block access to numerous Web sites without adequate court oversight is unconstitutional, according to a report by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) released at the end of February.

The report -- The Pennsylvania ISP Liability Law: An Unconstitutional Prior Restraint and a Threat to the Stability of the Internet -- analyzes the law, which charges ISPs with blocking access to any Web site deemed child pornography without notice to the site publisher or without any opportunity to challenge the determination. ISPs are required to block the sites even if they do not host the content and have no relationship whatsoever with the publishers.

The law also requires blockage of Web sites that are completely unrelated to child pornography because ISPs must block Web sites based on their numeric Internet protocol (IP) address, and most Internet Web sites today share their IP addresses with many other unrelated Web sites.

The CDT's report argues that the statute violates constitutional principles of free speech and due process, and is unconstitutional under both the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Pennsylvania's blocking orders could reach far outside the state and prevent people across the country from accessing lawful Internet content because of how the Internet is structured, according to the report.

The Pennsylvania law forces ISPs to manipulate the sensitive "routing tables" used to send communications around the Internet, increasing the risk of major Internet service outages, the CDT's report said.

"Child pornography is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated in a civilized society," said CDT Associate Director Alan Davidson. "But the Pennsylvania ISP law attempts to fight child pornography through means that are unconstitutional and technically flawed. This law does little to punish the producers of child pornography, but by blocking sites that are not pornographic, will have serious ramifications for free expression and the stability of the Internet." -- The Center for Democracy and Technology

Enhancing the Study of Biometrics
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new program aims to provide students with a solid understanding of biometrics, educate them about security system principles and their scientific foundations, and give them the ability to communicate with professionals in a wide range of public services about information assurance and biometrics (IAB).

The graduate certificate program in IAB was developed by the Biometrics Management Office (BMO) of the Department of Defense (DoD) in conjunction with West Virginia University (WVU).

"The overall goal is to attract DoD, government and military personnel with backgrounds in engineering, information technology and IAB fields, and give them a platform to combine professional expertise with the course curriculum to strengthen managerial skills and interaction across agency and executive-legislative branch boundaries," said Walter McCollum, Ph.D., biometrics education program manager for the DoD BMO.

The program, offered within the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at WVU, takes two semesters to complete and was designed to help DoD, government and military personnel enhance their professional development in the IAB fields, McCollum said. "This program also serves as a precursor to the master's program, which allows students to declare a concentration in information assurance and biometrics in one of the three master's program tracks -- computer science, electrical engineering and software engineering," he said.

In August 2002, WVU students enrolled in a pilot program, which was approved for accreditation in December 2002. More than 30 students have enrolled, and that number is anticipated to double with participation from DoD employees, McCollum said.

Students in the program are required to take introductory courses in biometric systems, information assurance and computer security in the first semester, and progress to advanced biometrics and forensic statistics in the second semester. In this time, students can choose an elective course in either digital image processing or computer/network security to fill out their curriculum. -- Jessica Jones, Managing Editor
Shane Peterson Associate Editor