Homeland Security Aims at Internet Control

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With the blessing of Barack Obama, the federal Department of Homeland Security (HLS) is planning to eventually take control of the Internet, according to an HLS counsel. Such a move by government logically would end citizens’ Constitutional right to freedom of expression, including limiting them to sharing only government-approved information.

Bruce McConnell, a senior cybersecurity counselor with HLS, reported to a cybersecurity gathering last Wednesday in Washington that HLS will establish “institutions” on the Internet to govern it, including working with other nations to determine what content is “proper.” McConnell led his presentation by explaining that Obama has instructed HLS to protect the Internet because it is a “civilian” agency.

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Americans should voice two major concerns to their Congressional representatives regarding this HLS plan: (1) when government establishes an “institution,” it basically means it plans to become entrenched and take control; (2) government deciding what content is “proper” is called censorship, and, again, is opposed to the U.S. Constitution.

McConnell, in speaking on a three-person panel covering “Cybersecurity Across the Atlantic,” also noted that Internet control should be a “public-private partnership,” adding that HLS has successfully worked with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the past, thus indicating they would continue that process.

Which leads to a third major concern citizens should voice immediately to their U.S. senators: the Republican-controlled House just over a week ago approved the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The proposed law will basically force technology and manufacturing companies to share Internet traffic information with the federal government.

Big business, including Facebook and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, support the legislation as a means of protecting against cyber threats. Microsoft had supported it, but turned against it in late April, citing privacy concerns. Internet privacy and civil liberty advocates oppose the bill, saying it will allow government intrusion of individual Internet freedoms.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international digital rights advocacy and legal group, has criticized CISPA:

“CISPA would allow ISPs, social networking sites, and anyone else handling Internet communications to monitor users and pass information to the government without any judicial oversight,” said EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman. “The language of this bill is dangerously vague, so that personal online activity – from the mundane to the intimate – could be implicated.”

In opposing CISPA, the American Civil Liberties Union-a legal nonprofit whose sole purpose is to defend Americans’ Constitutional rights-has offered this logical alternative to CISPA in an official release:

Rather than seeking more access to Americans’ private information in the name of cybersecurity, the government should be doing all it can to encourage private entities and government agencies to address security fundamentals. It simply does not make sense to undermine our freedoms in the pursuit of complex, expensive, and intrusive security policies when the most basic measures are not being implemented properly.

The ACLU noted, “According to a comprehensive forensic analysis by the U.S. Secret Service, Verizon, and the Dutch National High Tech Crime Unit, 96 percent of otherwise successful cyberattacks could have been avoided simply by using existing best practices and good cyber hygiene. Even the CIA’s Chief of Information Assurance has said that up to 90 percent of cybersecurity problems could be countered using due diligence. Yet, only 58 percent of North American corporations have a cybersecurity plan in place, and only 31 percent plan to increase spending on security.”

It’s not clear as of this writing when the Senate might vote on CISPA. And HLS’s McConnell indicated the agency’s working with other nations and private companies to take over the Internet was only in the planning stage. Obama, while pushing HLS to “protect” the Internet, reportedly opposes CISPA.

So now’s the time for anyone concerned about continuing Internet freedom to get organized, get educated, and get active. And for Americans to contact their senators and oppose CISPA, then encourage all of Congress to stifle the administration’s effort to censor and control the Internet via HLS.

Here’s the link to last week’s panels on Transatlantic cybesecurity: http://www.c-span.org/Events/Conference-Looks-at-Ways-to-Strengthen-Transatlantic-Cybersecurity/10737430366/

An article on Microsoft’s about-face regarding CISPA: http://news.cnet.com/8301-33062_3-57423580/microsoft-backs-away-from-cispa-support-citing-privacy/

The ACLU’s release on CISPA: https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/cybersecurity-legislation-and-common-sense-still

The EFF’s alert on CISPA: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/04/cispa-national-security-and-nsa-ability-read-your-emails

Facebook defends its pro-CISPA stance: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2403036,00.asp