A look at the latest cyber surveillance bill

These days, everyone seems interested in getting into the internet surveillance game, regardless of party or personal preference. It's just the popular thing to do – what with piracy, hacking and identity theft, they have to do something, even if they don't have a clue what to do – and according to Reuters, Senator John McCain has decided to get into the game.

The as of yet untitled bill was introduced last week, but it wasn't thrust into the spotlight until earlier today when the ACLU raised concerns about the bill's privacy implications. It is one of two bills aiming to address cybersecurity currently under consideration, but McCain's bill has more Republican support than its rival, which is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The main differences lie in how they try to address the problems. Reid's bill (which is far from perfect itself) is mostly concerned about the potential of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and takes the approach of putting the ever reliable Department of Homeland Security in charge of overhauling the infrastructure to prevent such a attacks. McCain's bill, though, takes the keys away from the DHS and puts the NSA and Cyber Command in charge of policing the net to try and catch would be 'threats' before they manifest themselves.

How would these threats be identified? Good old fashioned surveillance, of course. Basically, the bill encourages 'voluntary' information sharing between ISPs and the government. When nebulously defined 'network activity' with possible 'malicious intent' is spotted, the ISP would then be urged to transfer this information to a 'cybersecurity center' operated by the Ministry of Truth – uh, never mind, it's only the NSA and Cyber Command.

The corporations that tip off officials would also be protected from any lawsuits, even if the person they've been watching turns out to be innocent.

The ACLU's Michelle Richardson told Reuters that, "this is a privacy nightmare that will eventually result in the military substantially monitoring the domestic, civilian Internet." The main concern is that the scope of the bill is so vague that it has the potential of targeting perfectly innocent – and perfectly private – that set off red flags or just happen to draw the ire of someone with too much power.

The Center for Democracy & Technology's Jim Dempsey warned that the bill's invocation of 'national security purposes,' “is about as broad as you could be. We thought this was an issue that was close to consensus and close to a positive resolution, but seeing the direction this Senate bill went in, I'm more pessimistic now. It runs a real risk of dragging down the whole concept of information sharing."

For his part, McCain is quick to stress that the bill isn't trying to stifle the freedom of information online, telling reporters that:

The only government actions allowed by our bill are to get information voluntarily from the private sector and to share information back. We have no government monitoring, no government takeover of the Internet, and no government intrusions.

Even if it is done with good intentions, the idea of corporations spying on you instead of the government might not bring much comfort to many. Whether it's actually any better than the rival bill, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, remains to be seen.

The one thing that is certain is that we need to tread very carefully here. While no one wants an attack on infrastructure or even the PlayStation Network, netizens are also very protective of their freedom, and don't react kindly to any legislation that threatens to tread on that. And as blogger Jerry Britto points out, sometimes the worst threats come in the form of oversights and good intentions. "It does appear [that the bill] includes a hole through which the NSA may be able to drive a freight train.”

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15 Comments

They are going to continually push these bills, over and over hoping we don't notice as one tries to snake through.

Eventually, I hope we push back, hard. In due time.

Of course they're going to keep trying. It's because some kind of legislation does, in fact, need to be written, one way or another, and the people who are opposing what IS being presented have zero real-world motivation to participate in government any further than a sorry electronic ADHD excuse for activism.

For all of the people opposing what's coming out of congress, none of them--NONE of them--are having a discussion about how acceptable legislation would look. None of them are talking about what we could put on the books that wouldn't turn their vag into a sandstorm. They're all either anarchists or defeatists who've decided that nothing should ever, ever be changed about the Internet, despite that being the most idiotic, ignorant, and naive perspective a person could possibly have: technology changes, and the internet changes, and everything is going to continue changing until the internet 20 years from now doesn't resemble today's internet anymore than today's internet resembles dialing into a BBS.

So while there are real people and businesses and interests guiding and shaping the internet and technology in less than apparent ways (as they always have--this is not a sinister thing--there is no maniacal laughter), it's the internet activist, the redditor, the unemployed 25 year old who fetishized V for Vendetta, who is stagnating. Sitting around with a memory of a golden age of an Internet that never really existed, much like people in their 60s fantasize about a golden age in American history that never really existed, but that they all believe in because they were young and ignorant and didn't actually know how the world really worked back then.

It's the anti-government, the anti-legislation internet tough guy who is, in this case, trapped in the past. There's a reason why these people all talk with a vitriol typically characteristic of conservative talk radio, and a reason why their anger smells like libertarian anger. All of it--all of it--is rooted in their wrongheaded, ill-founded understanding of what technology really is.

Joshie said,

For all of the people opposing what's coming out of congress, none of them--NONE of them--are having a discussion about how acceptable legislation would look.

You are either completely ignorant to the world around you or have your own agenda in why you would support anything like this.

There is good reason why so many oppose this type of legislation that normally don't speak up, we are all to aware of how fascist governments work lately, and if you are really that ignorant to this reality, then you are in the shrinking minority that is either too naive or too afraid to stop blindly trusting an obviously corrupt political system and government.

Just look at what's been done in the past ten years over the fake terror threat, tens of thousands of people attacked and persecuted for almost any reason simply by law enforcement using "terrorism" to do it. Trillions wasted, freedoms destroyed from the airport to the playgrounds so little old ladies and people like you can feel a little safer. Pathetic.

This type of legislation will be used to further consolidate corporate power, government control and is why they don't care about passing legitimate legislation. The worst part is people like you that continue to stupidly trust their government when the patriotic thing to do is always question and limit your government.

But go ahead and lecture us on how we should just trust everyone and hand over the greatest invention of mankind.

Zappa859 said,
They are going to continually push these bills, over and over hoping we don't notice as one tries to snake through.

Eventually, I hope we push back, hard. In due time.

Yep. I find it particularly interesting that Harry Reid always seems to be one of the people pushing for this when we know he was caught taking money from groups that wanted SOPA and PIPA to pass... I guess he's still working for his masters... Talk about shady.

Hahaiah said,

You are either completely ignorant to the world around you or have your own agenda in why you would support anything like this.

There is good reason why so many oppose this type of legislation that normally don't speak up, we are all to aware of how fascist governments work lately, and if you are really that ignorant to this reality, then you are in the shrinking minority that is either too naive or too afraid to stop blindly trusting an obviously corrupt political system and government.

Just look at what's been done in the past ten years over the fake terror threat, tens of thousands of people attacked and persecuted for almost any reason simply by law enforcement using "terrorism" to do it. Trillions wasted, freedoms destroyed from the airport to the playgrounds so little old ladies and people like you can feel a little safer. Pathetic.

This type of legislation will be used to further consolidate corporate power, government control and is why they don't care about passing legitimate legislation. The worst part is people like you that continue to stupidly trust their government when the patriotic thing to do is always question and limit your government.

But go ahead and lecture us on how we should just trust everyone and hand over the greatest invention of mankind.


This is going to be a little bit of a personal attack, but you're sort of asking for it.

Reread the exact quote from my post that you put at the start of your response. Go, reread it. Seriously. Look at the words, in English, and process them. Good? Good.

Now ask yourself where the hell in that quote I said anything about supporting the bill. That very quote from my post criticized opponents of today's legislation for never asking themselves what kind of legislation they WOULD support. Really, I can't think of a way to clarify my post that isn't just retyping it, because it was that plainly written.

If internet activists have zero motivation to do anything other than say no to the effort of more motivated parties, they'll never actually get their way. Legislation MUST be written, and if that is what made you think I support what's on the table right now, you're borderline illiterate. People have to sit down and work out how laws SHOULD look and then support THOSE laws. It's called participating, and frankly, the anarchist horsecrap about how government can never work and legislation is NEVER good is just proof that you and internet activists fail at playing a legitimate role in society.

Grow the crap up.

internet seems to be working fine over here. Not sure that we need the gov't (who screws up everything they touch) taking the reigns.

They need to stop talking about this so much and just start passing the stuff. I, for one, am tired of the government not watching me enough. How am i supposed to use the internet, when big brother isnt telling me how? MORE REGULATIONS PLEASE! IM TIRED OF THINKING FOR MYSELF DAMMIT

Fireyetti said,
They need to stop talking about this so much and just start passing the stuff. I, for one, am tired of the government not watching me enough. How am i supposed to use the internet, when big brother isnt telling me how? MORE REGULATIONS PLEASE! IM TIRED OF THINKING FOR MYSELF DAMMIT

You are right. We should stop giving the government, and more specifically law enforcement, the power to go after criminals. I mean, the person that loses everything to identity theft is just a cry baby. They should just get over it and take the loss. Nobody should be responsible for going after the people that stole their identity. Groups like Anonymous who give out SSN and other personal information are doing him a favor. Can't he see that?

Works both ways and sounds just as ridiculous.

ILikeTobacco said,

You are right. We should stop giving the government, and more specifically law enforcement, the power to go after criminals. I mean, the person that loses everything to identity theft is just a cry baby. They should just get over it and take the loss. Nobody should be responsible for going after the people that stole their identity. Groups like Anonymous who give out SSN and other personal information are doing him a favor. Can't he see that?

Works both ways and sounds just as ridiculous.

Good point. Law enforcement should not have to do any investigating whatsoever. They should just be able to watch us constantly, and monitor everything we do. This way, they can just sift through and find the bad apples.
Or, why not just let them find people they THINK might be bad apples, to save even more trouble.

As a matter of fact, We should just have jail cell walls with remotely lockable gates on the outer perimeter of our houses. We could have them opened most of the time, but close them if the government finds that person suspicious, or if we just have no business leaving. This way, it will be easier to jail people, and law enforcement wont even have to search for them!

Innocent until proven guilty is just an old saying, it has no weight. We all should be treated like criminals until we are proven innocent. This is why it is ok for the government to spy, snoop, and invade our privacy. There are hackers and identity thieves lurking about, and because of this, we all are potential hackers and thieves. We are all just generally untrustworthy! Luckily, the government, who is free from corruption or imperfection, is there to save us from ourselves.

I get it now! Thank you so much for clearing this up for me!

Fireyetti said,

...

Went right over your head apparently. You made a ridiculous post and is either just troll/flamebaiting or are just as backwards and delusional in your thinking as the people who think we should be constantly monitored.

People need to understand how the process works.

Step 1: Propose a bill, even with its flaws.
Step 2: Debate and vote fixes into the bill if possible.
Step 3 Option 1: If the bill can't be fixed, get rid of it.
Step 3 Option 2: If the bill gets fixed, keep it.
Step 4: Vote for/against the bill.

This cycle will continue as long as there are people doing the things the bill is trying to put a stop to and anyone that wants to argue that internet crimes aren't a problem has never seen what happens to someone that has their identity stolen.

Something has to be done and these bills are basically a brainstorming activity for Congress. Come up with as many ideas as possible until one comes along that works.

The United States is supposed to be about freedoms. Freedom isn't without risk. If you're willing to sacrifice your freedoms for security, then you deserve neither? Sound familiar?

If you're so confident in the process, then why were laws like the NDAA altered from a perfectly acceptable tool to fight fake terrorism to specifically include American citizens? There was good reason so many were outraged over not only the law itself, but the hijacked process that got it through, if you don't understand that, you are part of the problem. This is no different in how it will be used.

hahaiah said it best, the good 'ol us of a is going down the drain quick fast and in a hurry. I'm sick of our government trying to put more laws in place to control anything and everything we do. I am honestly afraid for my childs future with all of this crap coming about. I'd honestly rather be dead than live under complete control of a system telling us what to do, and not to do every day.

soon enough it'll be like john spartan in that damn movie when you curse in public a ticket will print out automatically.

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