Sunday, November 23, 2014

Keyboard Cops

NEW YORK – Almost no one had read the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) before it was rushed through the United States House of Representatives in late April and sent to the Senate. CISPA is the successor to SOPA, the “anti-piracy” bill that was recently defeated after an outcry from citizens and Internet companies. SOPA, framed by its proponents in terms of protecting America’s entertainment industry from theft, would have shackled content providers and users, and spawned copycat legislation around the world, from Canada and the United Kingdom to Israel and Australia.

Now, with CISPA, the clampdown on Internet freedom comes in the guise of a bill aimed at cyber terrorism that should give Internet entrepreneurs – and all business leaders – nightmares. And yet, this time, major Internet and technology companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, supported the bill, on the grounds that it would create a clear procedure for handling government requests for information. Microsoft, at least, belatedly dropped its support after recognizing that the law would allow the US government to force any Internet business to hand over information about its users’ online activities.

But the bill is far more alarming than that. For example, “the head of a department or agency of the Federal Government receiving cyber threat information…shall provide such cyber threat information to the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center of the Department of Homeland Security.” No actual threat need be made. And what counts as “threat information” is defined so broadly that it can mean anything. “Notwithstanding any other provision of law,” the government may rely on “cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information.”

The vague concept of “cyber threat information” does not just let DHS investigate anyone. By including information pertaining to “a vulnerability of a system or network of a government or private entity,” and the “theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information,” the bill appears to target whistleblowers and leakers, and threatens investigative journalism.

The respected Internet technology site Techdirt has called the bill “insanity”: “CISPA can no longer be called a cybersecurity bill at all. The government would be able to search information…for the purposes of investigating American citizens with complete immunity from all privacy protections as long as [it] can claim someone committed a ‘cybersecurity crime.’”

Indeed, the DHS may look through data transmitted online without restraint, regardless of what it ultimately finds. And, in this respect,business leaders who believe that this bill is aimed at terrorists – or “at most” at the domestic activists and documentarians who can make it harder for them to operate – should be careful about what they wish for.

Indeed, because the definition of cyberterrorism is so broad and subjective, US business leaders who are pushing for CISPA risk exposing themselves to the DHS’s power to scrutinize their personal lives, subpoena their bank records, and disrupt their electronic communications. And the law would give the DHS similar control over the personal and financial lives of anyone who does business in the US or with American companies – a power that the US government has already tried to assert by issuing a subpoena for Icelandic legislator Birgitta Jonsdottir's personal bank records.

Everyone has secrets: love affairs, substance-abuse problems, mental-health diagnoses, heterodox sexual preferences, or questionable discussions with accountants. In a strong civil society, these personal matters properly remain private. In a surveillance society, they become leverage.

I am fearful of the effects of unrestrained domestic surveillance for specific reasons: I worked in two US presidential campaigns, and saw firsthand the standard tactics – nonviolent but still mafia-inflected – of high-level politics. There was no shortage of privately contracted surveillance and wiretapping. Campaigns routinely planted spies – interns, household staff, or even lovers – in the opposing camp, and devoted vast numbers of man-hours to combing through private records in opposition research. The results were then regularly used behind the scenes to bully, intimidate, and coerce targets.

Most of these “scandals” never saw the light of day – the goal was pressure, not disclosure. CISPA would give the same power to the DHS. America’s business leaders may think that they are immune, but the bill’s definition of “a threat” is so vague – with no distinction between a “threat” to the Internet and any random, even metaphorical “threat” on the Internet – that the DHS may keep tabs on anyone who says something that irks someone in a cubicle.

If CISPA enters into US law, alongside the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act – which gives the government the power to detain any American for anything forever – fundamental civil liberties will be threatened in a way that no democracy can tolerate. And because so much of the freedom of the Internet around the world derives from the freedom of expression that until recently characterized the US, enactment of CISPA poses a similar threat around the world.

The good news is that President Barack Obama has vowed to veto CISPA. The bad news is that he made – and then broke – a similar vow on the NDAA.

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    1. CommentedBill Giltner

      Here's an RSS feed link (it will only work in a feed reader) to show news (ongoing) on this topic.

    2. CommentedElizabeth Pula

      Well, I'm awfully fearful too. Websites aren't even a breath away of getting shutdown based on any kind of accusation by any "top dog" anywhere any day. How can any "entrepreneur" or "small fry" operate on the internet with the very real threat that is alluded to here in the Digital Trends article about one site, and apparently quite a few others in the holding tank:"Obviously, this case shows that the 2008 PRO-IP Act, which established the government’s right to seize domains, is broken. As it currently stands, the government is able to shut down a website without having a scrap of evidence that the site’s owners or operators did anything wrong.
      To date, ICE has seized some 750 domains as part of Operation in Our Sites. The U.S. government maintains that it has the right to seize any domain ending in .com, .net, or .org, regardless of whether those sites are hosted or run outside the U.S.
      View all the Dajaz1 documents here". (I sure hope it's ok to quote information from the internet. Am I at risk of getting thrown in jail for posting content on a blog site?)"

      This article doesn't even refer to activity that is any kind of "threat". This article just refers to a report of "possible copyright infringement" without even any evidence of any infringement of anything. Hey, can any Joe-the-plumber accuse FOX of and get the FOX site shut down for a year??? Who/what is threatening who/what?
      Read more:

        CommentedElizabeth Pula

        Here's something that real, and really scary: I think this quote is really important: "ICE didn’t provide any additional details to Dajaz1 or its users, nor did it ever press criminal charges, file a complaint, or give the site operators the opportunity to contest the seizure. Instead, the ICE lawyers told Dajaz1’s lawyers that it had obtained a series of secret extensions. Because they were kept secret, Dajaz1 had no way to challenge them. ICE finally released the domain name in December of 2011, again with no explanation. The entire court record for the case remained under seal for nearly a year and a half, leaving the government’s rationale for the seizure and for censoring the blog for a year an open question."

    3. CommentedElizabeth Pula

      Well, whaddyaknow, even without CISPA,and not much of any cause to shutdown a site- Here's the latest on the fantasy of present day internet rights:

    4. CommentedElizabeth Pula

      Your article is very good by identifying that the “issue” is “ unrestrained domestic surveillance”. I have read the proposed legislation.
      Some other most crucial issues are:
      1. Any citizen has absolutely no access to any information based on any activity by any approved corporation that acts for or with the Federal government agencies as authorized by the DHS. All activity is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
      2. Any citizen affected on any level, because of any surveillance or after effects of any surveillance, or use or misuse of any information from any surveillance, has absolutely no legal process on any level, state or federal. This proposal states specifically that any activity is exempt from any other law.
      3. What is most crucial is that this proposed law supersedes any state law. The proposal possibly ends any possibility of any state legislation affecting the internet at all. This is most critical because this is a very sneaky under-the-table way to outmaneuver present FCC(right or wrong) authority, and present limits to a sort of free access status to the internet. Even though it is not, and will never be free access, if commerce is to be “allowed” on local levels, local community, and state rights need to be discussed. This proposal also can eliminate any possibility of drastically essentially needed debate about state rights VS. federal rights about basic internet access, legislation, and especially local access for e-commerce. The electronic media is the E-COMMERCE storefront for all individual citizens. It is essential that local community, county and state legislation domain controls and limits be debated. The issue of “freedom of the press” and any rights to free commercial pursuits starting at the local level must be examined to maintain individual commercial, and individual constitutional rights through e-commerce. State control over internet commerce can actually create revenue streams starting at the local level and eliminate many aspects of the imbalance that has developed by a few internet corporate monopolies.
      4. The members of the House that have proposed and voted for this legislation are in fact not representing the citizens of their individual states. The members of the House are in fact trying to take away in a very sneaky and underhanded way, state and individual citizen rights. The members of the House that proposed and voted for this legislation are in fact just using their positions as politicians and are only looking for personal and short term personal profits. The members of the House of representatives should be concerned at their group effort to negate state rights as state legislation can effectively be the means to regain local economic dominance that is necessary to re-establish profits and local US market dominance that is crucially needed to re-balance the US economy. Perhaps the members of the House of Representatives that proposed and voted for this legislation need to be outsourced to another continent. Their positions really are no longer necessary. Individual citizens can easily vote directly and immediately on any necessary proposals using electronic technology most effectively. The House and Senate positions are really redundant positions. Volunteers could easily perform media presentations via local community centers. The Federal Budget could be most effectively cut, and cut drastically, if all salaries for the redundant Congressional positions are eliminated and replaced by local community volunteers, rotating on some regular interval. State referendums could actually allow for major changes in Congress, and individual states, local communities and individual citizens could actually profit, and keep the profits locally and tremendously.

    5. CommentedShan Jun Chang

      The US has ratified the International Covenenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which this legislation surely constitues a violation, so I suppose technically individuals could make submissions to the Human Rights Committee about this. However, it seems to make a point of avoiding direct criticism of UN member states, let alone Security Council members. What I don't understand is surely laws that permit arbitrary arrest and detention and invasion of privacy without reasonable cause for suspicion are unconstitutional?

    6. CommentedAdam Mcmahon

      One of the main things that put the USA over any other country was the fact that it was free. The first amendment allows citizens to voice what they will, we saw that get demolished with the new law of "distrubing the peace". Yes, you have the freedom to say what you will in your city park, but you are disturbing the peace, so you will be arrested.

      I see SOPA and now CISPA as just another joke on the American Line Card. How can a country that is so "free" try to control its citzens so much?

      I say this with comfort of living just north of the border, but I'm worried for the future.... How long until the USA is enforcing its own national laws on the rest of the world?

      The new America is becoming the land of "what if's"

    7. CommentedKonrad Kerridge

      So how is the US different from China when it comes to monitoring and criminalizing its citizens and those of other nations? Perhaps in one way. The US spends a lot more money on building the security apparatus of a security state.

      Whereas China is primarily concerned with development... to deliver wealth, and uses security to maintain stability to achieve its primary purpose of development.....

      ....For the US, being a security state is its primary purpose, since perversely a security state is viewed as a synonym for "the land of the free". Just as early American settlers were often persecuted religious extremists from Europe who fled to form the land of the free in America, contemporary Americans are once again being persecuted and threatened. This time by islamist terror (amongst another dozen things on which the government or opposition has declared war....communism, socialism, European social democracy, drugs, axes of evil, basically anyone or thing that threatens Christian conservatism etc).

      The sense of persecution and paranoia that Americans feel, and which feeds their need for outlandish national security spending and over the top constraints on freedom, has deep roots. And is not going away in my opinion.

        CommentedFling Flong

        Konrad: I think your basic premise of comparing the US to China is a good one and correct in many ways. The more you know about China, the closer the two appear. Not only in terms of their security apparatuses and citizen monitoring, but also in terms of their a-moral world views and political structures (the sooner people recognize that there is no material difference between Bush, Obama and Romney, that Congress is a ruber-stamp and that the judiciary is not impartial and independent, the better).