Media coverage of late has focused primarily on the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, gun control, immigration “reform” and little else. Few outlets have paid much attention at all to a piece of legislation that essentially tears the heart out of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The legislation is called the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act,” or CISPA, and it has already passed in the Republican-led House (248-168; 42 Democrats voted for the bill, while 28 Republicans voted against it).
There is some potentially good news, though, according to Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center. “Like gun control,” he writes, “it’s far from a done deal after the House passes CISPA. It would need Senate approval, and President Barack Obama has indicated he’ll possibly veto CISPA if it comes to his desk.”
Not a done deal, but still…
If he would use his veto power, two-thirds of both Houses would need to vote to override it and that seems unlikely, given Washington’s hyper-partisan atmosphere.
But what is worrisome is that the legislation was passed in the House, largely by a party that is supposed to be all for smaller, less intrusive government. See how there isn’t much difference these days between Republicans and Democrats?
At CISPA’s core is the Fourth Amendment, which reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That seems clear enough – no government intrusion into your private “effects” without “probable cause” and a search warrant. But, says Bomboy, CISPA would essentially nullify these rights as long as the federal government says it needs to do so to protect you:
CISPA is designed to let the federal government work with private companies to fight hackers and cybercriminals in and outside of the United States. As part of the effort to detect cyber threats, private companies could voluntarily share with the government data about Internet users. The sharing could be done in “real time” as the cybercops try to defeat and track down the evildoers. Companies could also share data among themselves as part of the effort.
Obviously there are big problems with this kind of legislation, to say nothing of the constitutional implications.
The most obvious drawback is, of course, the damage it does to constitutional privacy protections. Supporters of the measure say it protects consumers, but critics point out those so-called “protections” are intentionally vague or, in some cases, non-existent. “The government and companies can’t look at your personal data, such as medical records and tax if they are part of the ‘data dump’ that is shared in real time,” writes Bomboy. “But the law doesn’t require that companies excise, or edit out, that information in the transfer process.”
For another, no warrant will be needed before the government can obtain that kind of information. Also, none of the companies that cooperate with the government can be held legally liable for sharing your personal information – “a practice that seemingly conflicts with privacy policies on existing websites,” Bomboy points out.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., is one of CISPA’s primary congressional critics. In a speech on the House floor Apr. 17, Polis said, “This is the biggest government takeover of personal information that I’ve seen during my time here in Congress.”
Telecom giants are okay with privacy violations
The American Civil Liberties Union agrees that the measure is “fatally flawed.”
“The core problem is that CISPA allows too much sensitive information to be shared with too many people in the first place, including the National Security Agency,” the ACLU says, in a statement.
Major telecommunications companies – no doubt as a way to win favor with the federal government – are on board with CISPA, but, Bomboy notes, “Facebook and Microsoft had signed on to support CISPA, but now they are reportedly backing away. Google appears to be on the fence about the issue.”
Benjamin Franklin, one of our nation’s founders, once said of a situation very much like this, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Sources for this article include: