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
    DannyB (profile), 8 May 2012 @ 1:55pm

    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.

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