There is a proposed law being discussed in Congress right now that aims to expand the reach of spying on United States citizens within the country. The law is abbreviated as CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, HR 3523. First, it’s important to note the newspeak, making this law sound as if it’s protecting the patriotic sharing of intelligence by our loyal corporations. It’s anything but. What it’s really about is facilitating and legalizing the access by spy agencies like the NSA—which already has access to all your emails, phone calls, cell calls—to all this and more. To do this, the law will provide protection to U.S. companies so that, doing their patriotic duty, they can voluntarily provide information to the government about any ‘suspect’ (and suspicion is in the mind of the beholder) activities that come through their web sites or communications lines. The bill, not incidentally, is authored by ex-FBI agent and now Chair of the House Intelligence Committtee, Michigan Republican Mike Rogers. This is the guy who said in a public interview that he thought anyone (Bradley Manning specifically, who considered his leaks to Wikileaks to be the exposure of war crimes) who revealed classified information ought to be charged with treason—the penalty for which is death.
According to Michelle Richardson, an ACLU attorney interviewed on this morning’s Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org), the proposed law creates an exception to all existing privacy laws (requiring such outdated niceties as warrants or subpoenas), by providing protection to companies like AT&T or Google that wish to “share” their information with Federal spies. Most major internet companies support the law, and for good reason: in the event that these companies do share private information, they are completely protected from future lawsuits and actions by those exposed, including protection from FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests in the future. In other words, if a person wants to bring action for violation of privacy, he is shit out of luck: even if he could bring a suit, none of the evidence will be available! The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF.org) also notes that the law includes a truncated 2-year statute of limitations—clearly not enough time to even discover you’ve been spied on, much less gather data and bring any action whatever.
The law is expected to pass the House—it’s full of Republican dinosaurs who love giving the Feds more power when it’s repressive power that puts people in jail, rather than helping them with food or health care. It may have more trouble in the Senate, now controlled by the Democrats, and with President Obama, who has promised to veto the bill if it comes to him in its present form. However, the Pres has reneged on such promises before, so one can’t place much hope in that.
Perhaps the best thing to do is listen to some of the guests Democracy Now has been featuring in the past week. William Binney, for example, worked for 40 years at the NSA until, shortly after 9/11, he was so appalled by the amount of illegal surveillance the NSA was doing—he cited the figure 20 trillion! transactions the NSA has assembled on U.S. citizens, which doesn’t even include internet searches or bank transactions—that he resigned in October of 2001. When he became a whistleblower, he was attacked by the FBI, his home was raided (while he was in the shower), a gun was pointed to his head and he was interrogated right there. His colleague, Thomas Drake, was formally charged with violating the Espionage Act for talking to a reporter about his concerns with the NSA spying practices. This type of intimidation against whistleblowers has taken an alarming upturn in the Obama administration, and shows no sign of letting up (five prosecutions so far, described by Gabriel Schoenfeld as “the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history;” cited in “The Secret Sharer,” by Jane Mayer, New Yorker, May 23, 2011). Democracy Now also interviewed Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher for the Tor Project (torproject.org), working to provide software that offers a way to browse the net anonymously. This has earned him all kinds of harassment, to the point where he never, he says, communicates by phone or internet in the United States since he knows that all such communications are monitored. He has also been detained at a dozen or so airports:
I was put into a special room, where they frisked me, put me up against the wall. ... Another one held my wrists. ... They implied that if I didn't make a deal with them, that I'd be sexually assaulted in prison. ... They took my cellphones, they took my laptop. They wanted, essentially, to ask me questions about the Iraq War, the Afghan War, what I thought politically. (Amy Goodman, “The NSA Is Watching You,” Truthdig, April 26, 2012)
Welcome to the Brave New World of America’s surveillance society. How did that song go:
“Every move you make; every step you take; I’ll be watching you…”
Long story short: Don’t waste time folks. Don’t let CISPA pass unnoticed. Don’t think it’s only those who “have something to hide” who have to worry. As David Cole observed several years ago when commenting about the wartime violations imposed on enemy aliens: once the government gets away with violating the rights of those without citizenship, it’s never long before they can, and will violate the rights of citizens as well. Once the information is collected—Binney says he is sure the NSA already has copies of every email sent in the U.S., gleaned from interception points in most big cities—it will sooner or later be used. Go to www.eff.org and sign the petition. Call your senators. Raise hell. Liberties, once taken, rarely return.