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...

Filed Under: cispa, cybersecurity, derek bambauer, fiction, privacy


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  1. icon
    Machin Shin (profile), 8 May 2012 @ 1:29pm

    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.

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