Judge orders Interior to shut off Internet connections

Judge orders Interior to shut off Internet connections

Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia late this afternoon issued a preliminary injunction requiring the Interior Department to disconnect its IT systems from the Internet, with some exceptions.

The preliminary injunction followed a hearing this morning in which the plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Norton litigation, who represent American Indian trust beneficiaries, sought the injunction. The goal of the injunction is to protect American Indian trust accounts from intrusion via the Internet.

Lamberth wrote in today's order that Interior will not have to disconnect any system 'essential for protection against fires or other threats to life or property.' He required the department to identify and certify such systems within 10 days and provide specific justifications for keeping them online.

The order to remove Interior systems from the Internet was the second the judge handed down in two years. He issued a similar order on Dec. 5, 2001, to address similar security concerns with the trust accounts.

The judge also exempted systems that do not provide access to American Indian trust data or are secure from unauthorized entry. Lamberth allowed the department 15 days to certify that the systems are secure or do not provide access to the trust data.

Lamberth ordered Interior to provide a plan within 30 days of how the court could approve reconnections of individual systems to the Internet, and determine whether reconnected systems should stay connected.

The reconnection plan must provide a method for the court to determine that the reconnected systems are secure, according to the preliminary injunction.

Lamberth ruled that the court itself would decide whether reconnected systems should stay connected to the Internet. In doing so, he eliminated the role of special master Alan Balaran, a court official who has been overseeing the reconnection and security testing of Interior's systems since December 2001, when Lamberth first ordered Interior to disconnect the systems to protect trust data. Balaran's role was established in a Dec. 17, 2001, consent order that Lamberth suspended in today's preliminary injunction.

Interior spokesman Dan Dubray said 20 percent of the department's systems were already disconnected from the Internet due to previous court orders. He said he could not comment on the preliminary injunction because he had not seen it.


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