Government, biz agree on need to protect content

I had a strange thought about the furor over the document dump of sensitive State Dept. memos and correspondence on WikiLeaks.

While pundits and pols were ruminating about the damage to American diplomacy or fulminating about WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange, what went through my head was “Welcome to the war on digital piracy, Washington, D.C.”

Admittedly, my next thought was “God, I’ve been in Hollywood too long.”

But then I spoke to a couple of security experts with experience in both government and entertainment, and it turns out my first thought wasn’t so crazy.

“If it’s not a wakeup call, it’s a reminder,” said former News Corp. chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam. “Whether you’re in the government or you’re in the private sector, the ability to control data and the leakage of data is critical to any business, in today’s digital age, for it to survive.”

Nigam’s experience includes work for the MPAA and the Justice Dept. on intellectual property enforcement, and he said that the appearance of 250,000 classified diplomatic cables on the Web isn’t so different from a pirated copy of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” turning up on a P2P site.

“Classified information, copyrighted information and trade secrets are really the same thing,” Nigam said. “It’s information you don’t want to make public until and when you’re ready to make it public. So there’s no question there’s a uniformity of understanding between the two coasts of the country.”

The entertainment industry has clamped down to stop such leaks, not least through digital watermarks that allow for pirated content to be traced back to its source — and the subsequent prosecutions of leakers.

Speculation is that jailed Army private Bradley Manning, in the brig for months and charged with the unauthorized use and disclosure of U.S. classified information, is not responsible for all the leaked documents, particularly the State Dept. material. While it’s possible the feds are keeping mum about the identity of a leaker within the State Dept., it’s more likely they haven’t been able to identify the source yet. Could Washington actually be behind the studios on that score?

Don’t bet on it.

“If Hollywood can do it, you can bet the intelligence people can do it. The question is, do they have the will to do it?,” said neuroscientist Eric Haseltine, who moved from a job in R&D at Disney to the National Security Agency and now heads Haseltine Partners.

In other words, if Hollywood can put digital watermarks on its movies, the government is absolutely capable of embedding similar data on digital copies of cables, memos and emails. But it may not have gotten around to it.

Haseltine said he thinks WikiLeaks is “clearly going to increase people’s motivation to apply the technologies that are available to prevent (leaks) and do a better, quicker job forensically to find out who and how and where the thing happened.”

The ability to identify leakers really can change behavior. “When employees watch one of their colleagues getting prosecuted for one of these leaks, it sends a pretty serious fear throughout the organization,” Nigam said.

Nigam said there is an upside — at least from the point of view of data security specialists — to the WikiLeaks flap.

“It’s bringing the world together, whether you’re government or private sector, to recognize the importance of protecting data and the importance of working together to make that happen. And it’s also helping both sides understand just how important intellectual property is.”

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