Glenn Beck and the Government’s Fictional Plot To Hijack Your Computer
Earlier this week Fox News host Glenn Beckdid a segment on the Government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program in which he “exposed” the plans of
wicked, crazy, frightening people to
[seize] all of your personal and private information.
Warning his users
do not try this at home, Beck attempted to sign into the website to show his users a warning box which Fox quoted as saying the following:
This application provides access to the DoT CARS system. When logged on to the CARS system, your computer is considered a Federal computer system and is the property of the U.S. government… Any or all uses of this system and all files on this system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorized CARS, DoT, and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorized officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign.
By all accounts this is a pretty serious looking disclaimer and it appears to give the federal government license to take all manner of liberties on the user’s computer. The only problem with Beck’s expose and allegation is that he’s lying about it.
Beck pitches the entire story as if regular consumers are going to log on to the cars.gov website and, in the course of their use, encounter this message and blithely click “ok,” thereby giving the government’s jackbooted thugs the right to check out their financial spreadsheets and boost a copy of their porn collection.
That’s not going to happen.
An astute viewer of Beck’s expose might notice that the website that Beck is browsing is blue whereas the cars.gov website is green. This is no trick of the studio lights; though he never mentions it, what Beck is demonstrating only occurs on the dealer side of the website. The consumer side – the side that anyone who is not an automotive dealer will access – is green. What Beck demonstrates is not even something that a casual user of the site could stumble upon; they would have to go looking for it.
Indeed, regular users of the system can not even find the text Fox flashes up on the screen by going to www.cars.gov and following links. Users must first point their browser at a section of the site intended only for car dealers – http://www.cars.gov/index.php/dealersupport – and proceed from there. Clicking “Submit Transaction” and then “I agree,” from within this semi-private section of the site takes the user to an entirely different website, though one still administered by the Department of Transportation. Here the user may read the frightening text that Fox quoted and contextualized as a waiver for
seizing all of your personal and private information.
And those that do read it will likely find that it does not say what Beck says that it says. The disclaimer in its full form reads as follows: [emphasis added]
This application provides access to the DoT CARS system. When logged on to the CARS system, your computer is considered a Federal computer system and is the property of the United States Government. It is for authorized use only. Users (authorized or unauthorized) have no explicit or implicit expectation of privacy.
Any or all uses of this system and all files on this system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorized CARS, DoT, and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorized officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign. By using this system, the user consents to such interception, monitoring, recording, copying, auditing, inspection, and disclosure at the discretion CARS or the DoT personnel.
That paragraph break is important; because of it, the disclaimer does not give the government permission to look at the files on the user’s system but rather warns the user that the government will be looking at the files on the application’s system, specifically those files submitted by the user. Such text is boilerplate on many government web applications and a quick Google Search turns up more than 800 instances of the “Any or all uses of this system and all files on this system…” verbiage on a collection of public and private sites.
Far from the malicious and conniving scenario that Beck presents, the federal government is merely warning the dealers to whom it will be writing checks that their submissions are subject to scrutiny.
As usual, Beck’s hysterical rantings have no basis in reality or fact and as usual the same dedicated collection of wing-nuts and conspiracy theorists have picked up the story as gospel truth without even the slightest degree of skepticism or doubt. We should expect no less of Fox, which has fought for and won its right to lie to the American people, but if we trust in liars we have no one to blame but ourselves.