While Americans were focusing on the Boston Marathon bombings and defending the Second Amendment to the Constitution from the Senate’s efforts to eliminate guns, the House was busy about the business of destroying the Fourth Amendment.
After two days of debate this week, the House passed CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, by a vote of 288-127, with 18 abstaining. The legislation would allow the federal government to engage private sector firms — think Google — in the business of monitoring your emails, postings and user data for nebulous “threat information” which would then be shared “voluntarily” without need for any sort of warrant.
The IRS and other federal agencies already have policies in place stating their belief that they are allowed to waltz through your data anytime they please, so CISPA seems primarily crafted to protect the Facebooks, Twitters, Yahoos, Sprints and other electronic communications businesses from legal reprisals.
Amendments that would have required data to be made anonymous before being handed over were defeated. Among the defeated amendments was a proposal to allow companies to keep their privacy policies intact and legally enforceable.
Democrat Rep. Jared Polis told CNET that CISPA would ensure that firms that hand over private user data would be “completely exonerated from any risk of liability.”
All of this data will go into one big federal system — probably the one built by the National Security Agency in Salt Lake City — and be shared across networks that will search for correlations.
CISPA also would amend the National Security Act to allow the feds to share classified information with entities and individuals who do not have a security clearance.
The Fourth Amendment restricts (or used to restrict) what the federal government can do in criminal investigations: “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.”
What it does not protect you from is private companies that you’ve entrusted with your information mining that data for their own purposes. CISPA lets the feds get around the Fourth Amendment by engaging private firms and individuals to do their dirty work.
These firms and the government are allowed under CISPA to cooperate in this data exchange for purposes of ill-defined “cybersecurity.”
Once your data is “voluntarily” passed to the feds, it passes through the Department of Justice, which can then distribute it to any agency it pleases, from FBI to the Department of Agriculture. Once your information is in the feds’ hands, they can also use it any way they please. It’s only the initial private party to government transaction that falls under the “cybersecurity” definition.
CISPA also disallows Freedom of Information Act requests about data coming from those private firms, and they are not required to tell you they’ve passed along your information, so the feds could have a horde of investigators combing through your Internet records and you would be clueless.
According to a statement from the ACLU, “The core problem is that CISPA allows too much sensitive information to be shared with too many people in the first place, including the National Security Agency.”
CISPA now must pass the Senate.