Proposed new federal law would invite thousands of paranoid strangers to secretly read your most private thoughts

| April 17, 2012 | 1 Reply

Its sponsors call it the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act” (HR 3523), but its main function is to invite Big Brother into all aspects of what you assumed to be your private online existence.  Perhaps you are thinking, “I have nothing to hide.”  Good for you, but what about the fact that this horrifically vague proposed law would force you to share all of your most private online communications with the hyper-paranoid geek-goons and geek-thugs of the NSA?  Under CISPA, the Federal Government will have the right to look at that emotional email you just sent to your mother last week.  The government, including many thousands of people with security clearances, will have access to the pin numbers and passwords for your bank accounts and investments.  After all, you do use the Internet, and all they want is anything connected with or associated with the Internet. They want to know what your read and what you buy.  It will be like they are sitting right next to you while you use your computer.  CISPA is a blatant attempt to shred the Fourth Amendment, while offering offenders explicit immunity for their misconduct.  Even if they use your private writings merely to show sympathy for the political goals of someone the U.S. is attacking with drones.

You can read the bill here. Here’s how Free Press sums up the main provisions in its call for action:

  • CISPA would allow companies and the government to bypass privacy protections and spy on your email traffic, comb through your text messages, filter your online content and even block access to popular websites.
  • CISPA would permit companies to give the government your Facebook data, Twitter history and cellphone contacts. It would also allow the government to search your email using the vaguest of justifications — and without any real legal oversight.
  • CISPA contains sweeping language that could be used as a blunt weapon to silence whistleblower websites like WikiLeaks and the news organizations that publish their revelations.
  • CISPA would create an environment in which we refrain from speaking freely online for fear that the National Security Agency — the same agency that has conducted “warrantless wiretapping” online for years — could come knocking.

The centerpiece of this bill is that federal agents will only read your private information for purposes of “national security.”  We’ve heard that word over and over and over for the past ten years.  It has justified anything and everything for the federal government, including spying, maintaining secrets from the People who supposedly run this country, torture and endless war at a cost of billions of dollars per week.  This bill invites the government to spy on every American for no damned good reason.  If you think I’m sounding a bit paranoid, go read the text of the bill.  You’ll see no restraint whatever.  You’ll see no meaningful safeguards.  This could have been named the “Trust Me” bill.

Because the military industrial complex calls the shots in Congress, and because no politician wants to be accused of looking “weak,” anything and everything can be justified by uttering the phrase “national security,” so that is what this bill does.  If you think that I’m sounding a bit paranoid myself, just consider how the word “terrorist” has been defined by the federal government, according to Glenn Greenwald:

[T]he word that is used most frequently to justify everything from invasions and bombings to torture, indefinite detention, and the sprawling Surveillance State — Terrorism — is also the most ill-defined and manipulated word. It has no fixed meaning, and thus applies to virtually anything the user wishes to demonize, while excluding the user’s own behavior and other acts one seeks to justify . . .

The reason no clear definition of Terrorism is ever settled upon is because it’s virtually impossible to embrace a definition without either (a) excluding behavior one wishes to demonize and thus include and/or (b) including behavior (including one’s own and those of one’s friends) which one desperately wants to exclude.

Now consider that “National Security” is the flip side of the “Terrorism” coin.  These are code words for “free license to spy on Americans.”   And of course, once the federal government ransacks your cyber-existence, they have already shown the inclination to stretch the Espionage Act of   to attack America’s modern heroes, those relatively rare people (including whistle-blowers) who have the courage to speak the truth to power.  I’m talking about people you’ll never see mentioned in your “news” programs or “news” paper.  I’m talking about people like John Kiriakou (and see here) and Thomas Drake.

It already difficult for incredibly smart and good-hearted people to slap down the unquenchable desires of the NSA and more than 1,000 other secret intelligence organizations that you’ll never see mentioned in your “news” programs or “news” paper.  Not to single out the NSA, because there are so many other government agencies demanding that you give up your right to privacy.  And they demand that we open up our lives every day to thousands of strangers in the absence of probable cause all the while keeping their own corrupt and dangerous ways hidden from us. One organization hard at work for you is the Electronic Frontier Foundation–it has brought more than a few complex lawsuits to demand that the Federal Government stop violating the Fourth Amendment.  What does EFF think of CISPA?  Here it is in a nutshell:

The bill would carve out huge exemptions to bedrock privacy law and allow companies to share private user data with the government without any judicial oversight. The result? Untold and unfettered personal data flowing from online service providers like AT&T and Google to government agencies like the NSA.

Here’s EFF’s FAQ on CISPA.  Today, EFF offered a more detailed analysis:

Continuing our campaign against the cyberspying bill better known as CISPA, EFF has signed on to two coalition letters urging legislators to drop their support for the Rogers cybersecurity bill (HR 3523). One coalition is focused on the disastrous privacy implications of the bill, while the other identifies major government accountability issues it would introduce.

The coalition behind the privacy letter represents dozens of groups, including the ACLU, the American Library Association, the American Policy Center, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and many others. In the letter, the groups explain how CISPA as written would be devastating to our privacy rights:

CISPA creates an exception to all privacy laws to permit companies to share our information with each other and with the government in the name of cybersecurity. … CISPA’s ‘information sharing’ regime allows the transfer of vast amounts of data, including sensitive information like internet use history or the content of emails, to any agency in the government including military and intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency or the Department of Defense Cyber Command. Once in government hands, this information can be used for any non-regulatory purpose so long as one significant purpose is for cybersecurity or to protect national security.

The second letter — sent by a coalition including OpenTheGovernment.org, Mucrock, James Madison Project, the Sunlight Foundation, and many more — took aim at the ways in which CISPA would decrease government accountability.

[T]he bill unwisely and unnecessarily cuts off all public access to cyber threat information before the public and Congress have the chance to understand the types of information that are withheld under the bill. … Other information that may be shared could be critical for the public to ensure its safety. The public needs access to some information to be able to assess whether the government is adequately combating cybersecurity threats and, when necessary, hold officials accountable.

EFF offers its own take-action here.

Bottom line, please take action.  Tell everyone you can that CISPA is an hideous bill promoted by ignorant, evil and paranoid people who are hopelessly addicted to war.

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Category: Orwellian, Privacy, Propaganda, Secrecy, Spying, Whistle-blowers

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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