Geotimes
Web Extra Thursday, March 25, 2004

Interior back online

Yesterday, a U.S. appellate court lifted an injunction that had forced the Department of Interior to disconnect most of its computer systems on March 15. According to the ruling, the Interior can now reconnect most of its computer systems, although the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Web site still remains offline.

The U.S. district court originally ordered the Interior shut down its Internet to protect money owed to American Indians (Geotimes online, March 17). The shutdown affected the Minerals Management Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BIA and other Interior divisions that had not met the court's burden of proof of Web site security from hackers. Interior divisions that had fixed security problems, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service, were allowed to remain online. Members of the public and Interior employees were denied access to all affected sites.

The original lawsuit, under which the district court first directed Interior to shut down its servers in December 2001, was brought by a group of American Indians in 1996 that accused the Interior of mismanaging Indian land trust funds that were established and held by the agency since the late 1800s.

Ironically, the Internet shutdown adversely disrupted some programs designed to protect millions of dollars in royalties owed to American Indians from oil, gas, timber and grazing activities on American Indian lands. Children attending the 184 BIA schools were left without Internet access, the Minerals Management Service and BIA could not send monthly royalty payments to states and American Indian landowners and tribes, and environmental groups complained that they were unable to collect information on departmental policy proposals, as reported in the Washington Post on March 24.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton said in a press release that she is pleased with the appellate court's decision, but that the government will continue its appeal to permanently reverse the district court's decision.

Megan Sever

Links:

"Internet down again for Interior," Geotimes Web Extra, March 17, 2004
"Court ruling puts Interior back online," Washington Post, March 24
"USGS Internet Block," Geotimes Web Extra, Dec. 6, 2001

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