Court orders Interior to disconnect systems from the Internet again

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia late yesterday ordered the Interior Department to sever Internet connections at nine agencies, again finding fault with the department's systems security.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth included this latest disconnection mandate in a preliminary injunction order in the case of Cobell v. Norton. The decision followed a determination in a linked opinion Lamberth issued yesterday that concluded Interior's system security upgrades, procedures and plans fail to protect American Indian trust data.

Interior spokesman Dan Dubray said late yesterday that department officials still must review the court's latest order and have no comment yet. Meanwhile, senior Interior officials were at a hearing yesterday afternoon at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit attempting to get Lamberth removed from the case, arguing he is biased, Dubray said.

Lamberth barred Interior from reconnecting any systems still down since the court's December 2001 order shuttering virtually all Interior Internet links (Click for GCN story). He also specifically ordered Interior to immediately disconnect Net links for systems at:

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs


  • Bureau of Land Management


  • Bureau of Reclamation


  • Fish and Wildlife Service


  • Minerals Management Service


  • National Business Center


  • Office of the Inspector General


  • Office of the Special Trustee


  • Office of Surface Mining.


  • After providing security assurances and with the approval of the court, Interior had reconnected many systems belonging to these agencies. Lamberth's new order applied to all systems at the nine bureaus, even those that do not house or access trust data.

    The only systems exempted from the order are those essential to the protection of life or property. Additionally, the systems used by the Geological Survey National Park Service and Office of Policy Management Budget can maintain their online links.

    The injunction said Interior must submit a plan for reconnecting all its systems based on a uniform standard for evaluating security and for using an independent organization to oversee systems security. The injunction also calls on the plaintiffs in the case to comment on Interior's proposal and for the court to evaluate the plan for letting the department reconnect any systems.

    The lawsuits underlying the disconnection order concern multibillion-dollar claims by trust beneficiaries that Interior has mismanaged and lost funds held in trust for American Indians. The eight-year-old litigation led to a late 2001 finding by court consultants that anyone could easily hack into the trust accounts via the Internet.

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