April 30, 2013
By: Kelly Diamond, Editor
The fact that CISPA was tabled in the Senate, doesn’t mean it’s dead on arrival. Chances are, it’s just dormant, much like the last time we thought it was “shot down”.
Regardless of whether CISPA passes, unfortunately, the government agencies who want to pry deeper into private affairs will find a way, and they will find companies willing to sell out its users.
So once again, limited government lovers are shouting “LIBERTY WIN” in the streets over the “defeat” of CISPA in the Senate. I say this all the time, but it bears repeating: It is not a “WIN” when I DON’T get violated. At best we can call this a “Tyranny Loss”… but since CISPA is NOT dead, but rather tabled, I think the honest assessment is a “Tyranny Delay”. Yes, in a matter of a few sentences, I took that delusional “Liberty Win” and exposed it for what it really is: a Tyranny Delay.
All the word parsing aside, the FBI, and other federal investigative agencies, are chomping at the bit for easier access to private accounts and the information therein. Thus far, they’ve pushed the boundaries and bent a few existing rules, but their patience is wearing thin. So, being the proactive go-getters that they are, a work-around was put into place.
“When?” you may ask, “Recently?” Well, if by “recently” you mean since 2011, then yes. Two years ago, several agencies requested from the Obama administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) a means by which to surveil network activity. It started off as just a pilot program initiated by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Defense (DoD), meant only to be used by our military to monitor the internet use of defense contractors. I guess it was a very successful pilot because as of May of 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) got involved and it is being extended to energy, healthcare and finance industries come mid-June of this year.
Basically, the Justice Department offers immunity in the form of these “2511 Letters” (its moniker representing a part of the Wiretap Act code they are ostensibly overriding). The Wiretap Act limited networks and internet providers from eavesdropping on its traffic, except in cases where it is necessary in order to provide the service or at the expressed consent of the users. These letters absolve the network providers from any legal repercussions from the DOJ should the matter be challenged later.
I wonder if these “letters” hold as much water as the ones from the IRS that issued amnesty eligibility to individuals to repatriate their money. I get leery of “permission slips” from the government, as they are apparently reversible or even quite invalid regardless of whose office it came from. The Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan arm of Congress, says, “Such an executive action would contravene current federal laws protecting electronic communication,” which brings the validity or legal standing of these “letters” into question. If the letters ultimately don’t hold any legal merit, then what? AT&T is out of luck? Perhaps they deserve to be considering thus far their participation has been voluntary, but still, deserving or not, these letters are rather questionable at best.
You know you’re dealing with something special when former Homeland Security official Paul Rosenzweig says: “If you think of it poorly, it’s a CYA function. If you think well of it, it’s an effort to secure advance authorization for an action that may not be clearly legal.”
This work-around was the “Plan B” for if CISPA failed. If it passed through the Senate and received the President’s signature, then the letters would not be necessary. And the resurrection of CISPA happens to coincide with Obama’s February 2013 executive order for Homeland Security to establish procedures expanding the data-sharing program “to all critical infrastructure sectors” (i.e. the afore mentioned energy, healthcare, and finance) by mid-June.
Companies like AT&T are already complying. Soon others, not yet disclosed, will join its ranks. One of the staunch resisters has been Google, who in the second half of 2012 received 2,285 requests to pull content from its servers. That amounts to over 24,000 pieces of actual content. Many of the requests were court orders specifically asking for dissenting or disparaging items against the government to be removed. The requests aren’t restricted to the United States. In fact many are coming from Brazil and Russia. But, I’m not struggling to see the US government participating in that same sort of nonsense.
The hack into the Associated Press’ Twitter account and the recent bombing in Boston are both being politicized and used as tools to push through more legislation to restrict our freedom in the name of safety. Mayor Bloomberg was rather open about his sentiments toward the matter of safety when he said:
“The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry, but we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”
He opined further, saying that there are those who wish to take freedoms from Americans, but in order to protect them, we need more intensive security measures. While I don’t doubt there are plenty out there who would want to rid me of my freedoms, the irony is in Bloomberg suggesting I relinquish them to the state for safekeeping! Isn’t that like a thief suggesting I put my valuables in his care for “safe keeping”?