Senator Feinstein Brings Back Horrible Bill Forcing Internet Companies To Report On Your 'Suspicious' Behavior

from the it-was-a-bad-idea,-drop-it dept

Earlier this year, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who seems to be an endless well of bad ideas around surveillance, started pushing a bill that would require internet companies to report to the government any content they suspected was posted by terrorists. This bill has all sorts of problems, not the least of which is that most of the major internet companies already alert the government to any terrorist-related content that they come across. But, by mandating such reporting, it will only lead to these companies filing a bunch more reports — much of which will be bogus, flooding the government with useless information, just to avoid running afoul of the law.

Back in September, Senator Wyden successfully forced Feinstein to drop the bill…

But, of course, in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks all bad ideas are back on the table, and Feinstein is bringing this one back as well. She’s teaming up with the intelligence committee’s other biggest cheerleader, Intelligence Committee boss Senator Richard Burr, to reintroduce the idea, and they put out a completely bogus statement that plays up the fearmongering angle as much as possible, about those darn ISIS people using social media.

?We?re in a new age where terrorist groups like ISIL are using social media to reinvent how they recruit and plot attacks,? Senator Feinstein said. ?That information can be the key to identifying and stopping terrorist recruitment or a terrorist attack, but we need help from technology companies. This bill doesn?t require companies to take any additional actions to discover terrorist activity, it merely requires them to report such activity to law enforcement when they come across it. Congress needs to do everything we can to help intelligence and law enforcement agencies identify and prevent terrorist attacks, and this bill is a step in the right direction.?

?Terror groups have become adept at taking advantage of social media platforms to spread their message,? Senator Burr said. ?Social media is one part of a large puzzle that law enforcement and intelligence officials must piece together to prevent future attacks. It?s critical that Congress works together to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence officials have the tools available to keep Americans safe. The stakes have never been higher and having cooperation with these outlets will help save lives here and abroad.?

Neither of those quotes makes any sense. Again, most companies already report stuff, and mandating it will only lead to more bogus reports to avoid liability for the companies, while potentially leading to less active monitoring since they only have to report stuff if they come across it. As for Burr’s assertion that this is necessary to give law enforcement “the tools” to find this information — that’s a totally different issue. Doesn’t law enforcement have computers? Can’t they go to Twitter and Facebook and YouTube themselves and do searches?

Senator Wyden has already spoken out on what a bad idea this is, and how it would do the exact opposite of what Feinstein and Burr are claiming:

Let?s make sure the record is clear: The Director of the FBI testified a few months ago that social media companies are ?pretty good about telling us what they see.? Social media companies must continue to do everything they can to quickly remove terrorist content and report it to law enforcement.

I?m opposed to this proposal because I believe it will undermine that collaboration and lead to less reporting of terrorist activity, not more. It would create a perverse incentive for companies to avoid looking for terrorist content on their own networks, because if they saw something and failed to report it they would be breaking the law, but if they stuck their heads in the sand and avoided looking for terrorist content they would be absolved of responsibility.

I?m for smart security policies. If law enforcement agencies decide that terrorist content is not being identified quickly enough, then the solution should be to give those agencies more resources and personnel so they know where to look for terrorist content online and who to watch, and can ensure terrorist activity is quickly reported and acted upon.

Meanwhile, CDT has gone much further in explaining why this is such an astoundingly dumb idea:

Why is this proposal such a bad idea? As we described in July, it would create a requirement for all electronic communication services ? social media companies, as well as Internet service providers, web hosts, cloud services, and public libraries or coffee shops that offer WiFi access ? to make reports about their users? activity based on a completely opaque set of criteria. Creating such an obligation, with its vague parameters, would drive Internet companies to one of several likely responses. Some would decide to significantly over-report their customers? information and private communications to the US government to ensure that the company stays on the right side of the law. Others would refuse to review any content that was flagged to them, for fear that doing so would mean they obtain the ?actual knowledge of any terrorist activity? that triggers the reporting obligation.

Either of these outcomes pose major problems for the free expression and privacy of Internet users. It?s also far from clear that this would generate actionable information for law enforcement or intelligence agencies. Further, this type of reporting obligation would undermine any sense of trust between Internet users and the companies that provide the service providers that enable them to access information, conduct transactions, and share their perspectives online. The proposal would essentially deputize US-based Internet companies to act as agents of the government, including potentially requiring entities such as email services to turn over the contents of private communications if they are part of the ?facts and circumstances? of alleged terrorist activities ? for their users both in the US and abroad.

It’s a bad idea and Feinstein knows it’s a bad idea, because all of this has been explained to her multiple times in the past. So why is she still proposing it?

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Comments on “Senator Feinstein Brings Back Horrible Bill Forcing Internet Companies To Report On Your 'Suspicious' Behavior”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Interesting. You claim it would lead to a flood of bogus reports to avoid running afoul of the law, then cite Senator Wyden saying it would have the opposite bad effect: cause the existing stream of (voluntary) reporting to dry up, to avoid running afoul of the law.

Anyone want to place bets on which screwed-up scenario is more likely?

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s a bad idea and Feinstein knows it’s a bad idea, because all of this has been explained to her multiple times in the past. So why is she still proposing it?

You assume that she listens, but it is much more likely that she wants what she wants, and turns of her ears when anybody starts explaining why she is wrong.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wyden is a Democrat

  1. dem’rats vs rethugs : sorry, relative to the problem of confronting and dismantling Empire, there is very little difference between them, they BOTH support Empire 110% ! ! !

    2. they BOTH agree to avoid important issues by common consensus; they BOTH emphasize the hot-button issues which are relatively inconsequential in the overall scheme of things, but serve very well to keep us divided…

    3. they BOTH are beholden to the Korporate Money Party, NOT the 99%… one dollar, one vote ! ! !

    4. they BOTH by common consent, excoriate, eliminate and exterminate ANY third-party challenges/’outsiders’ that gain any traction; destroying ANY attempt by the citizenry to get at meaningful alternatives to the korporate-kontrolled duopoly…

    5. indies as a whole cohort, outnumber each of the asses and oliphant’s parties… only a matter of time… then the ‘elections’ will be called off…

    6. and -of course- BOTH parties manifestly and egregiously have avoided their constitutional, legal, and fiduciary duties in performing (the correct word with a different connotation) as representatives…

    IF THEY HAD BEEN DOING THEIR DUTY -at long last- they would be declaring wars, instead of abdicating that constitutional duty by letting the preznit have a free hand to bomb/destroy/murder with impunity around the globe…

    IF THEY HAD BEEN DOING THEIR DUTY, there would be a fuckton of banksters in jail or strung up; and BOTH parties have been party to that monumental injustice… BOTH cover for each other when push comes to shove, and BOTH use bullshit scare tactics on their constituency…

    IF THEY HAD BEEN DOING THEIR DUTY, there would be NO secret renditions, (NO renditions, per-i-fucking-od ! ! !) NO warrantless taps, NO ‘scoop it all up’, NO black torture sites, NO secret courts, with secret laws, secret verdicts, and secret executions…

    THAT is anti-thetical to America, sir/madam!
    WHERE were YOU when all this shit was (IS!) going down ?

    with the occasional exception of a wyden, etc, WHO speaks up against these abominations ?
    NO ONE on the inside, NEVER…

    (ONLY if a snowden FORCES the issue does ANY of this crap come out…)

    secret executive signing statements ? ? ?
    i don’t care WHAT bullshit ‘reasoning’ someone tries on me, THAT SHIT is unconstitutional, anti-small-dee-democratic, and fucking breathtakingly immoral…

    NONE OF THAT is what i love about America, land of the FREE, home of the BRAVE; and everything i hate about amerika, the Empire…

    put me on your fucking list, komrade feinstein !

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Wyden is a Democrat

Wyden is an awesome Senator and an awesome person. But apparently he capitulates when enough pressure is applied to him – see: Fast Track

And I’m assuming you mean “on the Intelligence communities”. There’s plenty of Republicans that oppose domestic spying and backdooring encryption that aren’t in the Intelligence community.

Anonymous Coward says:

“It’s a bad idea and Feinstein knows it’s a bad idea, because all of this has been explained to her multiple times in the past. So why is she still proposing it?”

Any credence to the idea that it’s a ‘I want a pony’ negotiation ploy, so she’ll ultimately ‘settle’ on a dog, which was what she was actually aiming for all along.

Jenn says:


I love how they vaguely repeat that they want social media to look for something they can’t clarify.

Add to that, this law give no fucks about whatever racist, sexist, or other discriminatory speeches you want to make.

You’re free to talk about how women love rape, deserve to be slapped, use every derogatory term for race, gender, or orientation, and even follow it up with the dumbest and angriest anti-science you can conceive of, but hey, don’t go talking bad about eh government.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


I should like to report three groups in Washington DC, The Executive, The Judicial, and The Legislative for inciting terror amongst the people by claiming that terror exists when it only exists in their agenda for grabbing more power. They appear to be of the belief that if they scream terror louder in in response to an ever increasingly broad spectra of events that the populace of our country will actually become terrorized.

The fact is that much of the populace of our country recognize this tactic and are not terrorized but sickened by the venal actions of people who are supposed to be our leaders, and are trying to lead us down very dangerous paths for their rather than our benefit.

Anonymous Coward says:

I see all this FUD going on constantly about terrorists and the fear mongering that’s coming with it and I have to ask myself why? What is so different in today’s world from yesteryear?

If people were truly happy with their government and the way it did things, would the minority groups be supporting terrorism, racial mongering, monetary inequality, and war mongering? It strikes me we have much more going on in the background that is not being addressed, being ignored on purpose, or because of some ideology. Our politicians seem to be playing knee jerk responses rather than thought out policies that actually benefit the people. I would guess the results is the populace, especially those minor few, are totally unhappy.

Something to think about…

Anonymous Coward says:


Some would decide to significantly over-report […] Others would refuse to review any content that was flagged to them, for fear that doing so would mean they obtain the “actual knowledge of any terrorist activity” […]

Either of these outcomes pose major problems for the free expression and privacy of Internet users.

Wait, what’s the problem with the second one? If I’m understanding it right, they’d give users a placebo-button. Given the history of “see something say something” programs, it seems like a reasonable way to handle user-reported threats.

I’d check the CDT’s page to find out, but I’m banned from reading it—apparently they’ve deemed me suspicious.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’d like to complain about someone’s suspicious behaviour.
It appears this person has been radicalized by a cult and wants to destroy the US constitution piece by piece by implementing a secret police force/stasi and having people spy on each other for cash.
Her name is Senator Dianne Feinstein.

I suggest she should be arrested, imprisoned for at least 13 years and waterboarded on a daily basis until she confesses to her evil scheme to destroy democracy across the US.

Daydream says:

I think I've figured out how Feinstein thinks.

She thinks she, and the rest of Congress, are playing a game, like a turn-based 4X game or whatnot.

In her game, the american public are obedient little minions, barely numbers on a screen that give bonuses to commerce/growth/military etc.
They’ll do whatever Congress tells them to do, always act like perfect little citizens, even if she goes ahead and calls for the legalization of slavery.

The barriers in her way aren’t the ‘public’, no; it’s the other players in Congress, they need to be convinced to go in this direction or that direction.
Like the “Democracy” option in Twitch Plays Pokemon.

Pardon? What about that part of the american public who are going on about ‘privacy’ and ‘free speech’ and ‘basic human rights’?
Oh, ignore them, they’re subversives. They’re like the terrorists and crooks, they pop up and bother you until you get an edict passed to let you stamp them out.
They’re easy to tell apart from the rest of the population, they’re the ones that say political things when the public are going on about cats, dogs, jobs, et-cetera.

And that’s basically it. She’s playing a game of Congress Plays Twitch Plays Congress, and all the little people are, in her mind, divided up into ‘obedient slaves; useful’ and ‘rebels; stamp them out’.

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