Wired Strategies Press Release

House Internet Chairman Demands McVeigh Investigation
Email Press Release February 11, 1998

February 11, 1998 - 10:30AM EST
Contacts: John Aravosis, 202/328-5707
Barbara Bode, 202/588-9598

House Internet Chairman Demands McVeigh Investigation, 
Warns of Encryption Debate Repercussions

In an unprecedented letter with serious ramifications for this year's Internet legislative agenda, a senior House republican -- Judiciary sub-committee chairman Rep. Howard Coble (R-6th/NC) -- has joined Rep. William Delahunt (D-10th/MA) in writing the President to urge an investigation into the Navy's illegal actions against Senior Chief Timothy McVeigh (no relation to the Oklahoma City bomber).  The Coble/Delahunt letter also warns that the McVeigh case could have serious implications for the upcoming "encryption" debate, in which the Administration wants the American people to trust that it will not abuse its ability to spy on American citizens via computers and the Internet.

Rep. Coble, a republican in his seventh term from North Carolina, is a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, and chairman of its Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee -- the subcommittee with primary jurisdiction over the Internet.  Rep. Delahunt is also a member of the same sub-committee.

Reps. Coble and Delahunt wrote the President on February 10, 1998, to "express our concern regarding the much-publicized case of ETCS(SS) Timothy R. McVeigh."  The House members urged the President "to order a full investigation into this case."  They added: "Now is the time for the Administration to send an unequivocal message to Americans of every political persuasion that government agencies will not be permitted to gather private information on American citizens without their consent and in violation of federal law, or to take punitive actions on the basis of private information that has been illegally obtained."

The congressmen explained that "Both Democrats and Republicans are watching this case with the keenest attention.  Some of us oppose the policy requiring the discharge of gay service members; some of us support that policy.  However, while we may disagree on this underlying issue, we are united in our concern over the implications of the case for the development of the Internet and the legitimate privacy interests of those who make us of it."

The Members also warned that the McVeigh case calls into question the Administration's credibility in the upcoming encryption debate (regarding the Administration's desire for legislative authority to break into the private computer systems of American citizens and others without the owner's consent.)  "When concerns have been raised that a key recovery system would compromise public confidence in the integrity of confidential communications, these [federal law enforcement] agencies have repeatedly given their assurances that encryption keys would not be used in the absence of a warrant or court order.  Yet what are we to make of such assurances when the Navy could so readily circumvent the warrant requirements of the ECPA [Electronic Communications Privacy Act] in order to obtain private subscriber information?"

"After 30 days of non-stop media coverage, we're still getting favorable editorials in places as unlikely as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Moline, Illinois," said John Aravosis, an Internet consultant assisting Senior Chief McVeigh on his case.  "The Navy's actions give people the creeps, including some senior Republicans in Congress.  If I were the Navy and the Administration, I'd be figuring out how to make this case go away fast," Aravosis added.
Senior Chief McVeigh was being discharged from the Navy after DOD illegally obtained his confidential email account information from America Online.  The Navy used such information to charge that McVeigh was "gay." 

Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin (a Reagan appointee) intervened on January 29, 1998, putting a permanent injunction on the Navy's discharge efforts, finding that the Pentagon launched a "search and destroy mission" against the decorated 17-year sailor in violation of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (federal wire tap law).  

The Navy responded to the judge's decision by saying it saw nothing wrong with its online fishing expeditions, would appeal the order, and continue its efforts to discharge McVeigh.  McVeigh, who has subsequently returned to work in Honolulu, was the former chief enlisted man on the nuclear attack submarine USS Chicago.  He has now been put in charge of base librarian duties, taking a $745 per month pay cut -- he has been the subject of repeated harassment by his Navy superiors, eliciting concerns for his safety.  Senior Chief McVeigh lives in Hawaii with his mother, whom he cares for after a recent heart attack.

PDF (i.e., Adobe Acrobat) copies of the original congressional letter are available by email and fax upon request.


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