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How convenient: Government seeks broader cyber powers after Patriot Act setback

Timing is everything, it has been said, and politics is the art of the possible. So what is one to conclude when considering the events of recent days in the cyber/digital arena? Just as the government surveillance juggernaut is being derailed with the demise of a portion of the Patriot Act, lo and behold, a cyber- attack conveniently occurs!

This is reported amid much “sturm and drang,” and is laid at the door of the Chinese. And of course the supporters of extending odious Patriot Act provisions immediately join the clarion call for greater government surveillance. Just how gullible and stupid do they think we are?

It was reported last week that some 4 million federal employees had their personal data hacked, and it prompted outrage from congressional leaders, and calls for the Senate to pass a controversial bill eerily similar to a House bill passed in April (but not yet voted on by the Senate). The measure, The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) would turn over vast new amounts of private data to the government, thus snagging a victory for the NSA from the jaws of defeat in the wake of the US Freedom Act debacle. California Republican Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, stated that,

“The government must take fast, decisive measures to counter these intrusions, which emanate from hostile nation-states as well as non-state actors. The House of Representatives has sought to strengthen our cyber defenses by approving the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, and the Senate urgently needs to pass the bill.”

But cybersecurity experts disagree, in fact pointing out that every breach of security that lawmakers attempt to use as proof that more cybersecurity powers should be authorized, actually highlights the government’s past ineptitude at cybersecurity, and are reasons why authorization should not be granted. Furthermore, such moves constitute further provocative efforts by the government to co-opt private businesses into sharing more information with the government.

Among opponents of the stalled Senate bill (CISA) is Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the intelligence committee and a frequent gadfly on matters of greater government surveillance, who said in statement that,

It is unlikely that information sharing by private companies would have made any significant difference in protecting federal employee data. That’s why cybersecurity experts say that passing a bill like this will do little to reduce security breaches. This is a bad excuse to try and pass a bad bill.

Another naysayer is Patrick Eddington of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, who expanded on the notion that it would be a mistake to give the government broader surveillance powers at this time. He said,

The notion that the federal government should get still more personal information from Americans as part of a misguided, centralized legislative response to cyber incidents is insane. That approach puts Americans at more, not less, risk of having their personal information compromised.

It also must be emphasized that many private companies spend lavishly on security, but that doesn’t make them invulnerable from hacking. On the contrary – they have been frequently attacked.

Because the government has not been transparent in the past regarding cyber issues, often cloaking themselves in national security double-speak, the convenient appearance of a foreign hacking event and the identifying of China as the culprit defies belief. If the public fails to rally around the administration in this latest fiasco, they have only their duplicitous selves to blame. The populace is too jaded, as it has meekly and docilely acquiesced to easily in the past whenever the national- security flag has been waved. That this is being done on the heels of a setback over the Patriot Act is just too much to swallow.


Stan Ward Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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