Sales in U.S. News: Technological Controls and Information Security

Technology, not law, may be the best way to prevent leaks of classified information writes Professor Nathan Sales in an op-ed appearing in U.S. News & World Report.

Considering the recent guilty verdict in the case of Bradley Manning, Sales states that criminal sanctions cannot repair the damage done by revelation of sensitive information and often fail to deter those determined to leak classified data.

"A more promising way to prevent leads is to rely on technological safeguards that restrict access to sensitive information and watch what officials do with it," says Sales. "A few lines of computer code can substitute for the brute force of law."

"Not only are technological controls good for security," Sales points out, "they're also good for privacy. In an era where counterterrorism efforts depend on ever larger troves of data, safeguards against misuse become increasingly vital. These tools can ensure that officials only use the information at their fingertips to find terrorists and not, for instance, to intimidate dissenters or harm political adversaries."

Bradley Manning is the Poster Child for Failing to Prevent Leaks, U.S. News & World Report, July 31, 2013. By Nathan Sales. 

For instance, the government should make extensive use of permissioning and authentication technologies to limit classified databases to the officials who truly need them. Monitoring and auditing tools should track who accesses the information, when, in what manner, and for what purposes. If a low-level enlisted man is downloading more than 700,000 classified diplomatic cables and battlefield reports, that ought to set off alarms somewhere.

"These kinds of safeguards have helped track down wrongdoers in the past. In 2008, access logs let the State Department quickly identify and discipline the employees who improperly accessed the private passport files of various presidential candidates."

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