A Speculative Example Of CISPA's Potential For Abuse

from the just-barely-fiction dept

In all the talk about how CISPA represents a threat to privacy and civil liberties, it’s easy to get lost in the legislative semantics and to lose track of the very real dangers the bill presents. It’s not as though CISPA is going to be signed and the next day everyone’s going to wake up having always been at war with Eastasia, but the bill is a significant step in the erosion of key privacy rights that stem from the 4th Amendment—the sort of rights citizens are supposed to be vigilant about giving up to the government, even if it doesn’t mean their lives are going to change overnight. At the same time, it’s not a purely philosophical issue: CISPA or a similarly problematic bill can and will be abused if it becomes law.

Over at Lifehacker, Adam Dachis spoke to law professer Derek Bambauer and used their conversation as the basis for a piece of speculative fiction from the point of view of someone who falls victim to CISPA abuse. It’s a well-executed concept that steers clear of sensationalism and presents a realistic example of how CISPA would grant the government new powers in areas far beyond cybersecurity, and how innocents might get swept up by those powers. The fictional narrator, who struggles through an ethically challenging college assignment on child pornography laws, has his name dragged through the mud after the school turned its computer logs over to the feds as part of a hacking investigation and his search history landed him under scrutiny. This nicely demonstrates one of the big problems with CISPA: the affirmative search permissions it would grant, which allow the government to dig through cybersecurity data for evidence of other crimes.

The story’s message can’t really be conveyed in snippets, but here’s a brief excerpt:

As I continued my research I found more and more instances of laws with vaguely-defined terms that were designed to be tough on crime. No one bothered to oppose them in fear of being painted weak, or as a lover of terrorism and sexual deviancy. As a result, innocent people ended up in jail as collateral damage. The law had chosen to try and assuage our fears by sacrificing our freedoms as payment. But even worse, it didn’t seem to be working. When you cast a wide net, you not only catch too many fish but so many that you can’t find the fish you’re actually looking for. People who broke the law weren’t getting caught because the resources previously utilized to catch them were diverted to finding offenders before they actually offended. It’s a nice thought to think we can preemptively prevent a crime, but it just doesn’t work.

Whether it’s Chinese hackers or child pornography, it’s vital that hot-button panics don’t override evidence and common sense in crafting legislation. Even more importantly, people should only allow the government to bypass their rights under extremely limited circumstances, if at all. There’s a famous quote about liberty and security, but I don’t want to Google it lest I end up on a watch-list somewhere…

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Comments on “A Speculative Example Of CISPA's Potential For Abuse”

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Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Stock traders know the truth.

That site is indeed frightening for a bit but then to you have to take into account other things. Just because you get the most money from the people benefiting from your vote does not make you bad instantly.

Just think for a moment if you were running for office. You made a promise to yourself to not be swayed by money and to be honest. Then one day you have people from both sides of an argument come and offer money. You could easily then accept money from the one you were going to support anyways and turn away the other.

Another point is, say I was running for office. I hate these copyright laws and would swear to change them. You can sure bet I would not get much money from Hollywood but the internet community would donate money to me.

I guess my point is that there are a lot of factors going into that and just because you the way you vote and your funds line up does not mean you are swayed by it. Sadly in a lot of cases I think money is buying votes but I would not throw someone under the bus just off the info on that site.

A better indicator is if you can see them flipping back and forth on the same type of issue following the money. If they hold firmly on one side of an issue though I have to respect that.

Robert (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Stock traders know the truth.

Just think for a moment if you were running for office. You made a promise to yourself to not be swayed by money and to be honest. Then one day you have people from both sides of an argument come and offer money. You could easily then accept money from the one you were going to support anyways and turn away the other.

Maybe at first, but after a few terms in office, you’d be so good you’d be able to collect the offers from both sides and do absolutely nothing, all while giving the appearance to appease each side simultaneously.

That’s a talented, and useless, politician.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Stock traders know the truth.

Well, I don’t know, If I could get into office and have Hollywood throw money at me while I did nothing to help them then that sounds like awesome position.

I guess what I’m saying is that it is the corruption that bugs me not really the money. The money by itself is not a direct indication of corruption. When the money is tied to other actions is when you can see the corruption.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Stock traders know the truth.

Oh my God!!!! Reasonable analysis!! I shocked you weren’t burned at the stake. If you have an issue, I’d guess that your donations would be to key members (i.e. committee members) that were favorably inclined to your position or persuadable. Why would you waste it on obvious opponents?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Stock traders know the truth.

I don’t think anyone is making the claim you’re lampooning. What they’re actually pointing out is that the system itself, which concentrates inordinate amounts of legislative power for any given issue in the hands of a few key committee members from only two possible political parties, is broken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Stock traders know the truth.

You’re ignoring the fact that there’s a limited number of places where money can come from. If anyone could just contribute money to their cause, the way they can contribute their vote, then your point would stand. Not all causes are equally monyed, however, which really invalidates much of what you’re saying.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:


How can Liegh be formally Marcus? Is one a pseudonym?

Marcus was a pseudonym that I used back when I was just a commenter, which just by habit became my pseudonym when I wrote guest posts. When I started working here, made sense to use my real name – but I also didn’t want it to be too confusing for all the people who knew me as Marcus, thus the explanation in my profile and pic 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

all these type of laws are designed with the same thing in mind, protecting jobs in the entertainment industries. what absolute bollocks! they are nothing other than ways of introducing more surveillance on citizens by the various governments, the USA in particular and the erosion of civil liberties! liberties that hundreds of thousands fought and died for, but are being completely discounted because of the fear the government has of losing control of doing what it wants and being held accountable!

DannyB (profile) says:

Don't stop CISPA -- it is the realization of a dream

Government, Law Enforcement, Intelligence Agencies, and the MPAA / RIAA want online private information to work like it does on TV.

The heroes are doing an investigation. They instantly can bring up a suspect’s banking and financial records. Their cell phone(s). Current and past location tracking data from phone or prepaid toll booth pass. Calls made / received and with who. Online search history. Online chats, etc.

On TV this is all done by the Good Guys(tm) and nothing bad happens. After all, they’re the Good Guys(tm) and wouldn’t misuse or abuse their awesome powers. And as seen on TV, even if they do abuse their powers, it’s always for the good, because the ends justify the means. They got the bad guy, so it’s all good.

In some cases, the fiction is worse, but bear with me a moment. In evidence we’ve got an SD card or USB Thumb Drive. It’s encrypted with 8192 bit encryption? Oops, that’s a problem. That level of encryption will take at least 30 seconds to crack if not 45. I’m sure the spooks, feds, and of course RIAA / MPAA would like this fictional element to be a reality. So it’s not difficult to imagine the weakening of encryption algorithms, or only allow use of those that have trap doors allowing that 45-second decryption. And government interfering with cryptography development is not unprecedented either.

In a nutshell, CISPA is the realization of a dream. Don’t stop it. It’s the dream of all tyrants. Dreams can be nightmares.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: abuse...

All laws are subject to abuse.

Being subject to abuse is different than inviting abuse.

Laws could be well written to have clear meaning with bright line boundaries. None of this blurry line “could I be breaking the law” nonsense.

If the proponents of such laws were well intentioned, they would make their laws precise. The fact that they do not, says that their intentions are to invite abuse.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: abuse...

Is it technically abuse when the laws are clearly designed to be used in such a manner? Because the law is misrepresented to the public does not mean that using it to its full extent, in the manner it was designed, is an abuse of the law. It certainly is an abuse of power, abuse of the citizenry, and perhaps an abuse of The Law writ large.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sad realisation

I fear it gets increasingly hard for a non-rich person to exist in this world. People with lots of power shape your world, and when they do leave you a legal breadcrumb to attack them with, they have the means to get you in a war of attrition you cannot hope to win.

This means the legal means to fight injustice are diminishing. While this was true for far longer than we might like to admit, the rules are changed much more openly the last 20 years. It seems to me the only way to fight injustice is to mimic the RAF to eliminate those in power. This, however, would militarise the class division, something we also don’t want.

While we applaud the revolution in Arabic countries, we may be needing one of our own, just like just over a century ago. The threat of revolution was what gave a lot of worker’s rights, a new threat of revolution could either give the realisation that the people have the advantage of numbers, or have the governments clamp down to continue the old ways. I fear the last is more plausible.

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