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Embedded with the antiwar movement

Posted February 2, 2007

On Jan. 27 nearly 500,000 citizens took to the streets of Washington to protest the Iraq War. This war has cost too many lives, and has squandered our nation’s resources, and global standing.

Vermonters, like many in the United States, are fed up with the war and a president who continues to ignore public opinion, Congress, and military leaders. In addition, the country is fed up with a media that continues to ignore the growing anti-war movement at home.

Journalist Amy Goodman has long criticized the mainstream media’s practice of embedding journalists with U.S. military. In an October 2003 interview with the Austin Chronicle, Goodman said, “You had U.S. reporters who were embedded in the front lines of troops, and you could hardly tell the difference between the troops and the reporters. If you’re going to make the argument that ‘Well, how else would you get that picture from the front line?’ — then why aren’t reporters embedded in Iraqi communities? Why weren’t reporters embedded in the peace movement all over the world?”

We asked ourselves that same question.

The Vermont Guardian covered last weekend’s D.C. rally to get an accurate picture of the day’s events. What we found represented broad tapestry of this country —people from different backgrounds, race, culture, age, and abilities. Veterans, and families with loved ones who died in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, joined in. All demanded that U.S. troops be brought home now, not in two years.

It’s time for Congress, and the president, to heed the call of the people. We’ve waited long enough.

Big hack attack

The news of yet another breach of personal information on a state-owned computer system raises some serious questions about the security protocols in place.

On Jan. 29, state officials acknowledged that a state computer containing the names, Social Security numbers and bank account information for 70,000 Vermonters had been hacked.

This comes on the heals of two other incidents; one involved the names and Social Security numbers of hundreds of health care providers being listed on the Internet as the result of a contractor’s error, and the other where a number of Uniform Commercial Code filings containing Social Security numbers of the applicants had been posted to the Secretary of State’s website.

The most recent breach of personal data came from computers managed by the Agency of Human Services. Agency Secretary Cynthia LaWare told The Associated Press that the state stored the information provided by a number of lending institutions longer than necessary, and when it wasn’t even needed.

Some of the names were of people who owed back child support, while nearly 60,000 names were simply supplied by the financial institutions so the state could determine if their customers owed child support. After that, the state was supposed to get rid of the data.

The state didn’t, and it failed one of the most basic tests of data responsibility in the digital age.

The main block of data came from the New England Federal Credit Union in Williston. Customers from eight additional banks and credit unions, representing about 2,800 individuals, were also affected.

The banks, in this case, have some explaining to do as well. They should be the ones sifting through and cross-referencing data, not sending off the personal information of all customers to the state.

As the state begins to examine the larger use of technology to share personal information related to patients as part of a way to improve health care treatment, these instances should serve as a cautionary tale.

To gain the confidence of the public that their information will be safe in the hands of the state, and its contractors, is paramount for any new technological initiative. Not to mention, if we are to be taken seriously as an emerging “e-state,” we need to prove that we can design our own systems in a way that shows we know what we’re doing.

CORRECTION: Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel pool, which contains the vast majority of the nuclear fuel used by the plant over its lifetime, is located outside of the containment building at other plants with Vermont Yankee’s design and differs from dry cask storage. The latter storage manner uses air, rather than water, to cool the spent fuel. This information was unclear in last week’s cover article.