Sunday, April 15, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 5

CISPA and the threat to privacy

There is a bill in Congress scheduled to be voted on during the week of April 23, which is being pitched as "Cybersecurity Week." The bill is called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, and it could obliterate any semblance of online privacy in the United States.

The supposed aim of the bill is to prevent theft of "government information" and "intellectual property" - but it also could enable ISPs to block your access to the whole Internet. That is not likely to happen, but the things that are more likely to happen aren't any better.

The bill does one straightforward thing, which I won't say is a good thing for reasons I'll get to in a second: The NSA has what are called cyber threat indicators, technological indicators of cyber attacks. The bill would allow NSA to share that information with corporations and ISPs looking to protect the security of their own networks. Those corporations and ISPs could also share cybersecurity-related info with each other and with the government. Which is why I say it's not an unalloyed good, not in the face of the knowledge about government and corporate secrets we have gained over time via hackers. At the same time, we have to balance that against the current risk to such as our credit card data. The point is at least arguable.

Regardless of that point, there are very real problems with the law:

For one, it makes no effort to list specific categories of cyber threat indicators that may be shared. Instead, it contains a definition of what can be shared that is almost unlimited: It allows companies to share - with each other and with the government - any information "pertaining to the protection of" a system or network. But any digital communication could contain a cyber attack, and ISPs and other communications providers routinely scan all their traffic to protect their networks. Put those together, and the law clearly appears to allow all of that traffic to be shared with government, because it "pertains to the protection" of that network.

At same time, the bill creates a sweeping "cybersecurity exception" to every federal and state law, including all privacy laws. This law trumps everything: every law, every protection. The net effect is to allow private companies holding our private communications to share them not only with each other, but with the NSA, with other intelligence and defense agencies, and in fact all other agencies of the federal government.

And once shared, there is nothing in the bill to limit the use of that information to issues of cybersecurity. The data, once obtained, could be used for just about anything. Corporations could use it for ad placements. The government could use it to investigate groups or individuals without having to worry about icky things like search warrants or probable cause or any of that: You don't have to search for the information, you already have it.

And it could be used to establish and keep a record of everything you say, do, read, write, or look at online.

Our rights being stripped away - and the only screeching we hear is about the one that's under the least threat: your freaking guns. No - no one is coming for your guns. No one is going to take them away. There are no black helicopters flying over your house. No one is going to pry your gun from your cold, dead fingers.

Meanwhile, our ability to vote is being restricted, especially if you are poor, minority, or elderly. Our control over our political future is being eroded by the power of corporations and the 1%. Our privacy is being stripped to the bone by corporations and the government. Our rights and freedoms, including our freedom of speech, our freedom of assembly, are being restricted in the name of "security." Almost any action taken against us becomes justified by the courts if it's done by a cop. And again, the only one not under threat is the one being screeched about the most.

Hey, memo to everyone out there, including myself: Maybe there's a connection between the amount of screeching and the lack of a threat?


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