American business and American government together and separately have a long, rich history of trying really sneaky shit, assorted power grabs and infringements almost always in the name of security (Hello Patriot Act and warrantless wiretaps) when it comes to the actions of government, and lucrative hosing if not outright robbery of consumers and taxpayers when it comes to private business (insert your favorite corporate subsidy or high roller tax code fluffing here). The Republican mania for deregulation is another way of saying to you, the citizen, on behalf of the party’s powerful corporate and plutocrat constituency, “Stick ‘em up”.
Now that epicenter of epic dysfunction, Washington D.C., host to a toothless, soporific media, ongoing de-facto Republican secession from the union and Democratic whistling past the graveyard brings you the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, enough in the name itself to produce a reflexive grabbing of your ankles. Its appropriately sibilant acronym CISPA is prison slang for, “Bend over, honey,” I believe.
Sponsored by Republican Mike Rogers and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger (There’s a name that inspires all the trust in your body to leap in his direction. I think one of my ancestors was a bagman for his operation) this law in a nutshell would allow corporations to share customers’ personal information with one another, as well as with the government, and to do it with impunity: in other words, with no civil or legal liability for violating your privacy.
If the feds ask for your personal information the corporation being asked has no incentive to withhold that information because you have no way to legally hold them accountable for handing it over. Put another way, the incentive is to give the government what it is asking for. Under CISPA, nothing so cumbersome as a warrant is necessary for the government to require the company to ferry over your personal data. And by the way, that government may not be Barack Obama’s relatively kindly one, but the newest Republican incarnation of authoritarian tinhorn Dick “Benito” Cheney’s.
As attempts at circumvention of the Fourth Amendment go, one as crude as this deserves a trophy as shiny as the Crystal Cathedral in the noon sun for the degree to which it brazenly insults Americans’ intelligence. According to this novel refinement of illegal search and seizure CISPA inserts a middleman already in possession of the keys to your cyber house who compliantly hands them over to government. The wink-wink pretext for capitulating to this handover is that the data is in some vague, undefined way related to cybersecurity. This is the internet version of being pulled over by a cop for “driving erratically” or a broken taillight.
Large companies in possession of your personal data aren’t exactly on your side. AT&T has spent $34 million, Comcast has spent $32 million and Verizon has spent $27 million on lobbying in support of the bill. Financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies are big financial and public supporters. Microsoft, Google, IBM and Time Warner are among the companies publicly in support. And here I thought Time Warner and me were bestus buddies. Zuckerberg’s little company Facebook has endorsed the proposal, though it added some mushy qualifications later. Expecting the person whose initial claim to fame was hacking the Harvard computer network to be a privacy fanatic probably isn’t well advised.
The Republican-controlled House has already passed the bill. It is now awaiting action in the Senate, not an institution in consideration for Profile in Courage awards on a regular basis (See: the history of the puniest possible gun safety regulation). It’s encouraging that President Obama has said that he would veto the bill in “Its current form,” though it must be remembered he vowed never to bargain with our Social Security, so hedge your bets.
It appears that Mike Rogers, Dutch Ruppersberger, AT &T et al. have volunteered my personal information for me in the fight for cybersecurity, and I can assure these respective congresspersons and company executives my gratitude is in the mail.