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Jan 14 2016   5:38PM GMT

Are the Malheur Occupiers ‘Using’ Government Computers? Depends

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Tags:
privacy
Security

Whether it’s arguing about the definition of “is” or just what constitutes a “clean” room,  kids and politicians love to debate about definitions.  Now the people taking over a federal research station in Oregon are doing the same thing.

When the group – –  and it’s up to you whether to call them “militia” or “terrorists” or something in-between – –  first took over the Mather National Wildlife Refuge near Burns,  Oregon on January 2,  concern was expressed about the government computers and data on them located at the site.  

Not to worry,  the group said; they weren’t using the computers.  Honest, Mom. Even though Oregon Public Broadcasting staff saw them doing so,  as well as having access to other personally identifiable information in the station.  

“After [member of the occupying group’s security team LaVoy]  Finicum realized he shouldn’t have allowed OPB to access the room,  he quickly picked up lists of names and Social Security numbers by the computers,  and hid government employee ID cards that were previously in plain sight, “ John Sepulvado of OPB writes.  “We haven’t touched any of the computers,  we haven’t tried to log on – –  we haven’t done anything, “ group leader Ryan Bundy told him.

As it turns out,  their not using the computers is only sort of true,  depending on your definition of “using” – –  and the technique involved is something we should all be aware of should we also find ourselves hosting uninvited guests around our hardware.

According to another article by Sepulvado and Amanda Peacher, the group is indeed using the computers,  via thumb drives with Linux on them.  This is through occupier David Fry, who said he drove in from Ohio to help the group and that he knows “a little bit” about computers. But what he was doing was okay because he wasn’t actually using the computers or the data on them,  he told OPB.

“I am using any computer I can use, “ Fry told OPB.  “Their data is perfectly preserved… you can’t access any of that,  it’s got encryption on it. “

Thank goodness for small favors.

What are the occupiers using – –  for whatever definition of “using” you prefer – –  the computers for?  Making a website for the occupation,  OPB writes,  which Fry identifies in one of his videos as defendyourbase.net.  In fact,  he’s even posted videos of himself “using” the computers and explaining the use of the thumb drives.  

Reuters reporters also observed the occupiers using office printers.  And whether the data came from paper files or the computers,  employees who live in the area report that they have been harassed in the vicinity of their homes by people they didn’t recognize,  which they attribute to the occupiers releasing their personal information.  (Perhaps the next job the office might take on is digitizing their paper files and putting them,  as well,  under encryption.) 

But remember,  the occupiers aren’t really “using” the computers.

It remains to be seen if the law will agree.  

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