The House of Representatives gave a thundering seal of approval on Thursday to a delightful American version of a News of the World-style private information-stealing initiative except that because it is the American version, it must be bigger and more hairy and makes it particularly not illegal for armies of nosy trolls to collect and search warrant-free through private Internet communications as long as the troll is seated at a computer located in a federal agency office building. The bill, CISPA, is being sold by its bipartisan sponsors with the usual doses of constipated hollering about Chinese spying, which it proposes to solve in part by authorizing mass U.S. spying, on its own citizens.
The government cannot ask private corporations such as Google or Facebook to turn over private user communications; the bill merely “empowers” companies to turn over information they think constitutes a cybersecurity threat along with any information they would kindly like to volunteer “to protect the national security of the United States.” The companies do not have to protect identifying information if they don’t feel like it, so it will be up to your email provider to decide whether Department of Homeland Security agents get the privilege of laughing at you for your unicorn porn addiction support group.
Here’s a useful bit from the Electronic Frontier Foundation cheat sheet:
Under CISPA, any company can “use cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property” of the company. This phrase is being interpreted to mean monitoring your communications—including the contents of email or private messages on Facebook.
Right now, well-established laws, like the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, prevent companies from routinely monitoring your private communications. Communications service providers may only engage in reasonable monitoring that balances the providers’ needs to protect their rights and property with their subscribers’ right to privacy in their communications. And these laws expressly allow lawsuits against companies that go too far. CISPA destroys these protections by declaring that any provision in CISPA is effective “notwithstanding any other law” and by creating a broad immunity for companies against both civil and criminal liability.
An amendment prohibiting the government from using information it obtains to monitor the legal activities of protesters did not get a floor vote, so all of you malcontents will be stuck forwarding Uncle Norm’s chain emails with the pictures of the dogs drinking beer to avoid suspicion from now on. [The Verge]
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