Nel's New Day

April 18, 2013

Shame on the House for CISPA Vote

Yesterday when the Senate voted against the first of nine gun legislation amendments, although the majority of senators voting in favor of it, two women shouted “shame on you” from the gallery. “Shame on you!” If Patricia Maisch and Lori Haas had tried to buy guns, they would have spent less than ten minutes in a background check. For shouting these three words, they spent almost two hours undergoing a check. Maisch disarmed Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, and Haas’ daughter Emily was shot twice during the Virginia Tech shooting.

Congress brought more shame down on themselves today through their vote on CISPA (Cyber Intelligence and Protection Act). The House passed this anti-privacy act by 288-127  with more “yes” votes than last year’s equally flawed bill. Although conservatives claim they want total privacy with gun ownership—even keeping the government from tracking gunpowder used in illegal bombs—they are perfectly willing to give up all privacy to their electronic communication without so much as a whimper.

The bill, passed by enough votes to override the president’s promised veto, now goes to the senate. If it goes into effect, the government can spy on people with even more ease that the Patriot Act gave them.

  • Companies can monitor user actions and share data with the government without a warrant.
  • CISPA overrides existing privacy law and grants broad immunities to participating companies.
  • Information provided to the federal government would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other state laws that could require disclosure.
  • If a company sends information about a user, the government agency does not notify the user, only the company.
  • Internet companies are protected from any legal liability after they hand over  data to the federal government.

The issue here is not security because the government would be allowed to use all private information for issues that have no relationship to cybersecurity. And there would be no accountability because the government would not have to tell anyone what they are doing. It overrules all existing federal and state laws by saying “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” including privacy policies and wiretap laws. Companies may share cybersecurity-related information “with any other entity, including the federal government.”

Of course, the reason for passing the bill is money. Some GOP lawmakers are being paid by companies that will get bundles of money from building CISPA surveillance software. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) admitted this in a tweet that he has since deleted: “House Intelligence Committee received 15 more times from pro-CISPA groups than anti-CISPA orgs.” He knows whereof he speaks after receiving $214,750 from special interest groups that support CISPA.

Passing CISPA will make Rogers’ wife very happy too. Kristi Clemens Rogers was, until recently, the president and CEO of Aegis LLC a “security” defense contractor company. She helped the company get a $10 billion contract with the State Department. The company describes itself as “a leading private security company, provides government and corporate clients with a full spectrum of intelligence-led, culturally-sensitive security solutions to operational and development challenges around the world.” Very important when the government needs to look at every piece of electronic communication from the general public in the United States.

The right to privacy has seriously declined in the past 40 years. Four decades ago, FBI agents couldn’t go undercover at any public meetings unless they were pursing an open investigation. A decade later they could do so with some restrictions. Attorney General John Ashcroft wiped out all these limits in 2003. This year, the Ohio Court of Appeals ruled that it was legal for the Trumbull County Children Services Board to require attendees of its public meetings to sign in before being admitted to the meetings. This is the state of surveillance in the United States.

The National Security Administration is already snooping into the private affairs of people in the United States to such an extent that the NSA doesn’t even know how many people are affected. When Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, tried to find out last summer how many domestic phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and other communications are under surveillance by government agencies, the NSA inspector general stated, “Obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of [the] office.”

One amendment to CISPA requires the Inspector General and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to regularly report on how the government’s use of CISPA is impacting privacy. This is highly unlikely if they can’t even report on their existing surveillance.

According to the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

But not electronic communications.

Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) used the excuse of this week’s Boston bombing to pass this bill. There has been no evidence that this attack was an act of cyberterror.  Yet it is his party that refuses to allow the government to track the purchase of gunpowder because of the NRA’s clout.

Sens. Jay Rockfeller (D-WV) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have introduced legislation to give Internet users the right to opt out of online tracking. The bill would penalize companies that do not obey the users’ requests. Companies would be required to destroy or make anonymous any personal data not necessary for the online service to function. Two years ago, a coalition of Internet companies promised to do this on a voluntary basis, but nothing has been done. These companies–or the ones that create surveillance software– will probably pay off conservative politicians to kill this bill.

Conservative politicians will continue to take money from the NRA to sell guns while they take more money to eradicate the privacy of people in the United States. They can get away with this because the media is focused on disasters and other government issues.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went on seven television shows last week to address immigration, Face the Nation discussed the gun background checks, and This Week worried about the president’s budget, and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba. State of the Union went North Korea.  And the Boston bombing and the Texas fertilizer plant plowing up has consumed the last four days of news.

The House is happy about this being temporarily ignored. The committee hearing on CISPA was in secret, and the vote before the House was rushed. Representatives managed to keep most of their privacy while they take away ours.

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