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Interior Dept. Begs That Computers Stay Online

The Interior Department on Friday asked for a reprieve from a federal judge's order that the agency disconnect from the Internet all computer systems with access to data related to accounts it manages for thousands of American Indians.

In a motion filed Friday in federal district and appellate courts, the government said disconnecting the computers would cause "massive injury to the public interest and the operations of government" and that "a broad array of government services will come to a crashing halt."

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth (search) ordered the shutdown on Thursday, saying the department's computer security was so bad, hackers could easily break into the system and access and manipulate the Indians' account information.

He directed the department to disconnect all but those systems necessary to protect from fire or threats to life, property or national security.

Department officials say the order would affect as many as 6,000 computers across the country plus "an undetermined number" of others with indirect access to trust information.

Lamberth's Thursday order was much more extensive than his previous opinions, which required the Bureau of Indian Affairs (search) and other Indian agencies to go off-line to protect trust data.

In an almost 10-year-old class-action lawsuit, Indians contend the government has cheated them out of more than $100 billion by mismanaging oil, gas, timber and other royalties on their land since 1887.

A major issue in the case is whether the government has kept accurate and secure trust data.

Lamberth has frequently tangled with the department in the case, harshly criticizing its treatment of Indians' trusts.

On Thursday, he wrote that during tests, government-contracted computer experts were able to access several Interior Department (search) computer systems for days at a time.

The government argues there is no evidence that any accounts have been hacked or that the damage would be irreparable if they were.