By Aliya Sternstein
Oct. 24, 2005
An appellate court postponed a federal judge.s order Oct. 21 to
disconnect all Interior Department information technology systems that
access Indian trust fund data. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said
he ordered the shutdown because the systems are vulnerable to hacker
Interior officials then requested an administrative stay to
temporarily suspend the shutdown, pending appeal.
Lamberth originally granted American Indian plaintiffs a motion for a
preliminary injunction to shut down any computers, networks, handheld
computers and voice-over-IP equipment that access trust fund data. The
injunction, which he issued Oct. 20, prohibits Interior employees,
contractors, tribes and other third parties from using those systems.
It is not known when or if a shutdown will occur.
"When the court takes it up, they'll let us know what our status is,"
Interior spokesman John Wright said today.
Depending on interpretations of the order, Interior could be forced to
disconnect 5 percent to 10 percent of its computers, he said.
Although this would not harm the general public, "it would cause
significant harm to Indian [communities], given that we process a lot
of data by way of computers," Wright added.
Interior's IT security has been the focus of a nine-year class-action
lawsuit that criticizes the department's oversight of Indian trust
funds. Indian plaintiffs have accused Interior officials of failing to
properly protect data.
The plaintiffs are expected to contest the delay.
Bill McAllister, their spokesman, said the brief will state that Judge
Lamberth scrupulously followed the instructions of the court.
"He found the evidence overwhelming that the conditions were not safe
in their computer systems," McAllister said. "This is another attempt
by the Justice and Interior departments to evade [their]
responsibilities to" American Indians.
Department officials took the Bureau of Land Management.s Web sites
off-line for two months this spring after Interior's inspector general
issued a report warning that its IT systems are vulnerable to
In 2001 Lamberth ordered Interior to disable Internet connections on
all computers that employees - and hackers -- could use to access
trust fund data. He ordered two subsequent shutdowns, although
Internet access returned to the department following a federal appeals
court ruling that blocked the second order.
Most recently, lapses in Interior.s oversight allowed government-hired
hackers to infiltrate the agency's systems, according to a Sept. 6
memo from Earl Devaney, Interior's IG.
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