- - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Nearly everyone agrees there’s a dark and smoky suburb across the River Styx reserved for child predators, but occasionally one of them shows up on somebody’s payroll, even the government’s.

A federal jury in Nebraska last week found Timothy DeFoggi, until recently the acting director of cybersecurity for the Department of Health and Human Services, guilty on seven counts of child pornography and child exploitation.

DeFoggi, 56, was paid $144,385 as the “lead information-technology specialist” for the department that gave us Healthcare.gov, the world’s most expensive information-technology fiasco. Though his trolling for pornography had been revealed long ago — he was indicted 17 months ago — agency officials kept him on the payroll until January of this year. While sitting in jail awaiting his trial, DeFoggi was paid more than $90,000 in salary.

The presumption of innocence is of paramount importance in the courtroom, but employers are not required to give the unsavory special treatment. A suspension without pay would have been appropriate.

Before his secret was exposed, DeFoggi was responsible for keeping Health and Human Services computers “safe” from online intruders. He instead spent much of his time on child-porn websites. On one of them, DeFoggi wrote: “Have many perversions. Contact me for fantasy chat.” He was caught when the FBI found the website and shut it down.

A federal judge will decide what is to become of DeFoggi in November, when he is scheduled to be sentenced. A long stay in prison, where the abusers of children are not exactly treated as welcome guests, is likely.

What’s more troubling is that someone as sick as this was entrusted with so much access to the personal information of others. Before DeFoggi joined HHS, he held the highest security clearance at the Energy Department’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. “I used to develop technology for the CIA and NSA,” DeFoggi told the court.

This is why it’s troubling that the federal government has collected personal health information on every American through Obamacare and Healthcare.gov. This is why the National Security Agency must never be allowed to tap into an iPhone without a warrant or proof of the holder’s involvement in a crime.

Hollywood was upset over the weekend as intimate nude “selfies” of “Hunger Games” actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton, niece of the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, leaked onto the Internet. The photographs had previously been traded in secrecy on seedy underground websites.

Exactly how the selfies were stolen is not yet known, but Paris Hilton’s similarly naughty snapshots were stolen in 2005 because the thief used “social engineering” to trick the telephone company into allowing him to reset the password for her account, knowing that “Tinkerbell” was the name of her dog. That took a lot of effort.

The National Security Agency is plugged into everyone’s iPhone, Android and BlackBerry and email accounts, and no effort is needed to misuse the data. When unsavory characters are allowed to keep the keys to the digital kingdom, nobody is safe.

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