Senate Scraps CISPA…But Watch Your Back

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The United States Senate today showed a glimmer of respect for civil liberties. It said “no” to the House-passed cyber-security bill known as CISPA, preferring to draft its own legislation.

cispa-sopa-pipa-actaThe Obama administration, it appears, has proven less respectful. News came yesterday that the Justice Department has secretly authorized intercepting Internet communications on portions of AT&T and other Internet service providers’ networks. It also appears such interceptions would prove illegal under federal wiretapping laws.

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Yes, it’s hard to keep all Congress’s Internet-control bills straight. Last year, there was SOPA. There was also PIPA. Two “anti-piracy” bills to iron-fist the Internet. The Internet revolted. The bills failed.

Then, just about this time last year, Congress was looking at another bill: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). Michigan Republican Congressman Michael Rogers introduced it. The House passed it. The Senate didn’t.

This year, it barged back for another run. Last week, the House approved basically the same bill again, and it sailed its cyber way over to the Senate.

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Basically, the bill would require private technology and manufacturing firms to share with the federal government “Internet traffic information,” i.e., what websites Internet users access, and what users publish online and write in their emails. Why? To investigate cyber threats and ensure networks’ security against cyber attacks.

Sounds good in general, right? But, in this combative age when conservatives and liberals are even assaulting each other’s philosophies at Christmas, guess what? A plethora of both liberal and conservative groups oppose CISPA.

thThey range from the American Civil Liberties Union-the legal organization that defends citizens’ Constitutional rights in court-to the American Conservative Union.

What’s their problem with the bill? Too few limits on government control: potentially allowing federal agencies to monitor private citizens’ Internet browsing, and spying on the public rather than manipulative hackers.

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Who favors CISPA? Big Tech Biz: Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, IBM, Apple and the United States Chamber of Commerce. They trust the government will operate within the law (and protect Big Tech from lawsuits for tapping private citizens’ info).

Today, the Senate signaled it had comprehended the naysayers. The question is, what specific language will the upper house compose in its new legislation. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, was quoted in U.S. News and World Report today (Thursday) as saying CISPA is “important” but the bill’s “privacy protections are insufficient.”

So look for the Senate to offer its own bill this year, perhaps soon.

Obama Sneaks One In

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Meanwhile, Obama has said he would veto CISPA legislation if it doesn’t include privacy assurances. At the same time, his Justice Department officials seem to be avoiding privacy law with their new secret order. According to the tech media site CNET:

The secret legal authorization from the Justice Department originally applied to a cybersecurity pilot project in which the military monitored defense contractors’ Internet links. Since then, however, the program has been expanded by President Obama to cover all critical infrastructure sectors including energy, healthcare, and finance starting June 12.

cispa“The Justice Department is helping private companies evade federal wiretap laws,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which obtained over 1,000 pages of internal government documents and provided them to CNET this week. “Alarm bells should be going off.”

Those documents show the National Security Agency and the Defense Department were deeply involved in pressing for the secret legal authorization, with NSA director Keith Alexander participating in some of the discussions personally. Despite initial reservations, including from industry participants, Justice Department attorneys eventually signed off on the project.

You can read the full CNET report here.

Email Privacy Law Updated?

The Senate is also preparing to update email-privacy legislation. According to The New York Times, the Senate Judiciary Committee has “unanimously passed a measure that would require the government to get a search warrant, issued by a judge, to gain access to personal e-mails and all other electronic content held by a third-party service provider. The bill still needs the approval of the full Senate.”

Question: With the Senate espousing privacy protection with its version of CISPA, a Senate panel looking to expand email privacy, and the Obama administration paying lip-service to privacy yet expanding efforts at Internet monitoring, where do you see all this going? Yep, probably to court.

Wikileaks Beats Valitor/Visa in Court

Speaking of court and the Internet, neither Obama nor Sen. Dianne Feinstein can be happy with the Iceland Supreme Court. On Wednesday, it ordered Valitor, the international online and e-commerce payment company, to open the payment gateways used by WikiLeaks.

Valitor, formerly Visa Iceland, is Visa and Mastercard’s Icelandic partner. According to News of Iceland:

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Julian Assange
Julian Assange

The largest credit card corporations in the World, Visa and Mastercard, told service providers to close down all services to firms that receive payments for WikiLeaks. This was done after the website leaked thousands of mails from US embassies all over the world. DataCell services Wikileaks in Iceland and Valitor, agent for Visa in Iceland, blocked all payments.

DataCell and WikiLeaks sued Valitor because of this. The district court in Reykjavik ruled that Valitor had to open for the payment gateways. Valitor appealed, but the supreme court reached the same conclusion.

WikiLeaks’ founder/editor-in-chief Julian Assange in 2007 published thousands of U.S. government documents and the video of American military aircraft gunning down Iraqi journalists in Baghdad. This garnered the ire of both Obama and Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They have been hoping to try Assange in the U.S. for breaking the federal Espionage Act.

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Following the Icelandic high court’s ruling, Assange publicly vowed legal action against others who have attempted to shut down WikiLeaks.