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1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual.


April 27, 2012

CISPA: the latest attack on freedom in America

A few months ago many were worrying about PIPA and SOPA, two US bills drafted ostensibly to protect intellectual property rights, but blocked thanks to widespread protests including the blackout of many internet sites – most notably wikipedia. Meantime, we have also seen the European Union attempting to ratify the international ‘anti-piracy’ ACTA treaty, this time ignoring not only public opinion, but the advice of two of their own appointed rapporteurs.1 So there has never been such a conspicuous rush by governments to take control of the internet, and to limit the free sharing of information, as we have seen during the last few months.

Combined with this, we also recently learned that the NSA are constructing a massive new centre for the purpose of the interception and storage of all email and other personal data passing through the United States. Finally, we see how this unlawful intrusion on personal privacy is to be legitimised, by, of course, yet another draft of internet regulation: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which passed yesterday in the House of Representatives:

On a bipartisan vote of 248-168, the Republican-controlled House backed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa), which would encourage companies and the federal government to share information collected on the internet to prevent electronic attacks from cybercriminals, foreign governments and terrorists.2

Taken from a report in today’s Guardian.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel Michelle Richardson has since made the following statement:

“CISPA goes too far for little reason. Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans’ online privacy. As we’ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity.”3

The ACLU is also holding out hope that the Obama administration will now veto the bill as it is threatening to do. The Guardian also reports that The House of Representatives “ignored objections from Barack Obama’s administration” by approving the legislation. But now let us rewind just a little. This is taken from another Guardian article published in December last year:

Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law [NDAA 2012] that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.4

The same article goes on to say:

Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing.

Returning to CISPA, and in contrast to the outcry over SOPA and PIPA, it is interesting to note that all of the major corporations involved with the internet have been supporting the bill. No blackout of wikipedia, or any other major sites. What do these companies have to gain? Here’s Michelle Richardson speaking on yesterday’s Democracy Now! :

[And] frankly, they’re going to make out like bandits. Under this bill, if they share our private information, they get complete protection from liability. Consumers will no longer be able to assert their privacy rights that exist under current law and hold them accountable in court. They can’t be prosecuted by the government like they currently can for illegal wiretapping or sharing information. They’re getting FOIA exemptions, so that no one will ever know about these breaches or the things that they share with the government. They’re really walking away here with maximum flexibility to share our personal information with minimum accountability and no enforcement to make sure that they are not oversharing and infringing on our privacy.5

Click here to watch video and read the full transcript of the Democracy Now! interview

Asked what the prospects are of the legislation passing, Richardson replies:

Well, we were very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat yesterday and said, in very clear terms, that they believe that control of the internet needs to remain civilian, and the military shouldn’t be routinely collecting information on innocent people.

Very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat… Why so pleased? Can it be that Richardson and the rest of ACLU are suffering some form of amnesia? Have they forgotten that Obama reneged on his promise not to authorise the NDAA ‘indefinite detention’ act less than four months ago? Are they also oblivious to the fact that the necessary facilities for such widespread domestic surveillance is now being constructed in a heavily fortified centre in Bluffdale, Utah at a cost of $2 billion? So Obama isn’t fighting the same corner. Surely by now that’s obvious, isn’t it?

“But why did he do it?” a friend said to me, soon after Obama had given the go-ahead for indefinite detention without trial. This common response simply reminds me of the question the drowning frog asks the scorpion in the fable.6 The answer being, if you remember, “I couldn’t help it – I’m a scorpion”.

1 Kader Arif resigned in protest on January 26 denouncing the treaty “in the strongest possible manner” for having “no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,” concluding with his intent to “send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

The newly appointed rapporteur, British MEP David Martin, also recommended against the treaty, stating “The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties”.

2 From an article entitled “Cispa cybersecurity bill passed by House of Representatives”, from Associated Press, published inthe Guardian on April 27, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/27/cispa-cybersecurity-bill-passed-senate

http://www.aclu.org/blog/technology-and-liberty-national-security/house-representatives-passes-privacy-busting-cispa

4 From an article entitled “Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial: civil rights groups dismayed as Barack Obama abandons commitment to veto new security law contained in defence bill”, written by Chris McGreal, published in the Guardian on December 15, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/15/americans-face-guantanamo-detention-obama

5 http://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/26/cispa_critics_warn_cybersecurity_bill_will

6 A frog and a scorpion are trying to cross a river. “Hello Mr. Frog!” says the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

“Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?” asked the frog.

“Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

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