Coming Soon - Watching You on the Web

Late last month, an Internet privacy watchdog group revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency had contributed money for a counterterrorism project that promised, among other things, an automated surveillance system to monitor conversations on Internet chat rooms.

Developed by two computer scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York as part of a National Science Foundation program called Approaches to Combat Terrorism, the chat room project takes aim at the possibility that terrorists could communicate through crowded public chat channels, where the flurry of disconnected, scrolling messages makes it difficult to know who is talking to whom. The automated software would monitor both the content and timing of messages to help isolate and identify conversations.

Putting privacy concerns aside, some Internet specialists wonder whether such projects, even if successful, fail to acknowledge the myriad other ways terrorists can plot and communicate online. From free e-mail accounts and unsecured wireless networks to online programs that can shield Internet addresses and hide data, the opportunities to communicate covertly are utterly available and seemingly endless.



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