President Obama has continued his assault on the US Constitution by once more circumventing Congress and invoking executive privileges in a matter involving the Internet.
Once more, the supposed champion of civil liberties, who rode to the presidency on a promise to limit government’s role in our privacy, vowing to have transparent government, further rides roughshod on promises made.
His call for an era of new cooperation between the government and private sectors to address online threats merely cloaks a broader agenda for this administration, and dovetails with the Democrat’s decades – long big government schemes, which sap the very energy from the portion of the population they purport to “save” – the average citizen. It also fits in with the administration’s crafty position on the net neutrality issue, which it likewise masked in a pro-privacy guise when in reality it is just another government regulating land- grab.
The executive order urges companies to join information sharing hubs to exchange data on online threats, but stops short of exempting said companies from possible liability and prosecution if the information they share is toxic. This element has thwarted attempts over the last few years to get corporate support for any cooperation for the government.
The action by Obama is another in recent series of attempts by the president to burnish his image as a conciliator who favors individual privacy, soothing ruffled feathers over US government spying both domestic and foreign, as evidenced by overtures to Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel on the heels of her just completed trip.
Obama signalled his intentions and signed the order at a carefully orchestrated event at Stanford University, in a genuflection to the area which has produced many of the technological innovations, and indeed where the Internet was born. It is here, therefore, that defences to secure those innovations must be developed.
But more likely the administration, as is their practice, took a poll and found that Americans were more upset about the Sony hack (purportedly by North Korea) and are trying to undo the damage of six prior years of growth of the spying apparatus under Obama, while favourably positioning Democrats for the 2016 election cycle. It also comes at a time of great tension between the government and the tech giants.
The private sector has largely been reluctant to share information about threats with the government because to do so would hamstring government regulation and might compromise proprietary information and customer data. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook opined that “people have entrusted us with their most personal and precious information.” Coincidentally, or maybe as a quid pro quo payback for his endorsement of the proceedings by being there, Cook discussed Apple’s new payment system, Apple Pay.
The FBI countered remarks by its cyberdivision assistant director, Joseph M. Demarest, that the sophistication of the hackers American companies are arrayed against is daunting making information sharing which can enable authorities to trace hackers essential. He said, “We’re fighting PH.D’s on the other side of the world. Not only the FBI but our colleagues in the intelligence community can enable and assist not only with attribution but with kicking actors out and keeping them out.” Demarest went on to point out that the role the FBI played in the Sony hack was pivotal.
Companies are worried, as they should be, about the price of such cooperation with government agencies. They are still recovering from the fallout in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, and are concerned about the impression such sharing arrangements would have among customers, some of whom are foreign governments. And privacy activists correctly say the approach is misguided and are sceptical. “Key to security is to minimize data collection (not expand it) and adopt robust security measures,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “If they can’t protect it, they shouldn’t collect it.”
Many companies are quick to allude to the information sharing they already conduct with industry partners, and are still miffed that intelligence agencies surreptitiously siphoned off customer data which flowed among data centers according to Snowden’s revelations.
With the administration’s poor privacy record as a backdrop, it is difficult to climb aboard for a policy which appears to be a smokescreen for more of the same as it relates to government intrusion on our lives. Perhaps Google’s vice-president of security put it best. He said, “The tricky thing about information sharing is that it is all about trust. Information-sharing becomes pretty hard to do once trust is lost.” Fact is, this administration has lost trust with domestic consumers as well as foreign consumers and governments despite its recent efforts to contain the damage.
As usual, we stress that Stan’s views are his alone, and do not reflect those of the rest of the BestVPN team.