Savage US surveillance laws hidden in ‘must-pass omnibus bill’

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

December 17, 2015

A cybersecurity bill endorsed by the White House in August has been signed into law by the Senate. The legislation is another steep step up the road to a total loss of digital privacy in the land of the free. On Tuesday afternoon, during a session of Congress that was billed as a ‘must-pass’ end-of-year spending omnibus, Congress surreptitiously swept in legislation known as the Cybersecurity Act of 2015.

The legislation (smuggled in fiendishly within the thousands of pages of the omnibus) helps to shackle down the US’s already alarming domestic surveillance policy. Further extending its government’s ability to gather every digital communication of US citizens – terrorist, cyber criminal or saint.

The bill is the end product of an essentially flawed process that saw the House and Senate attempting to reconcile key subsections of the ardently masked surveillance law. The sneaky addition to the omnibus (effectively a full revival of CISA legislation vetoed by the White House previously) builds on legislation passed in October to give US intelligence agencies unfettered access to domestic digital communications originating from corporate hands.

Despite drawn-out negotiations between Senate and House on essential privacy measures (demonstrative of paramount sensibilities), due to the meddling ways of the powerful alphabet agencies, the bill (opposed by Apple, Yelp, Twitter, Reddit and many more) has now been forced through the backdoor in an, even more, incendiary form than the previously Senate approved version. Signed into law (somewhat corruptly) within the pages of a ‘must-pass’ end of year bill – yet also stripped entirely of the vital privacy safeguards that were so hard fought for inclusion – tyrannically undemocratic.

Commenting on the last minute inclusion of the ‘cyber bill,’  Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said ‘I just think it’s very troubling. The bill should not be in the omnibus. It’s a surveillance bill more than a cyber bill. I’m going to vote against the omnibus as a consequence.’ Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) concurs concluding that,

There’s plenty wrong with this omnibus, but there’s nothing more egregious than the cyber language they secretly slipped in.’

Supporters of tyranny consider its inclusion a satisfactory resolution to the endless delay created by the discord between the House and Senate. The reality, however, is that the oppressive legislation  (opposed by every digital privacy expert in the nation) has been fast-tracked over the finishing line – out of sight and reach of its opposition- to whom the bill is abhorrent and incompatible with universal human rights.

So, what is so horrific about this new version of CISA? Firstly, it allows the NSA to get its hands on all of US citizens private data – simply by request. If this hokum bill had been penned to improve cybersecurity, DHS would naturally have retained control (to ‘scrub’ uninvolved third parties’ identifiable data from any material needed to carry out an ongoing investigation).

Number two on the menu of horrors is the legislation’s open admittance that it removes all restrictions on data being amassed for surveillance. You couldn’t make it much clearer. Third place in the ‘facepalm bill’ goes to a section that lifts the ban on US citizens being spied on only for cybersecurity. The not so aptly named Cybersecurity Act of 2015 in reality specifically opening up US citizens to the prospect of being snooped on for anything but.

Finally (and perhaps most outrageously) the bill puts an end to the legal need to ‘scrub’ personally identifiable data. The security measure (previously carried out by the DHS)  is instead left up to the ‘discretion’ of the CIA, NSA, and FBI. Laughably, the dangerously backward ‘cybersecurity’ legislation is being justified by the government’s complete inability to keep even its own sensitive data cyber secure (such as in the hack of the Office of Personnel Management when 21 million federal employee details were stolen). As Open Technology Institute rightly asserts,

‘Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA, S. 754), which the Intelligence Committees and House Leadership renamed the Cybersecurity Act of 2015 (Division N of the omnibus), after negotiating text that combined three bills into one behind closed doors… is a privacy and cybersecurity failure.’

Any legislation that violates a law-abiding citizen’s right to live his or her life in control of his or her digital footprint is an intense violation of human rights that should be considered essential to the process of building a progressive, enlightened society. Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future says the legislation is,

‘A disingenuous attempt to quietly expand the U.S. government’s surveillance programs. It will inevitably lead to law enforcement agencies using the data they collect from companies through this program to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate more people, deepening injustices in our society while failing to improve security.’

No matter which way you look at it, a legislature that wants a complete loss of reasonable personal privacy for its own citizenry and forces corporations to turn their backs on their own clients is wrong. It is bad for business, bad for human rights, bad for the people of the US, and bad for humanity at large – all of which are inevitably influenced by the US’s outstanding ability to make terrible decisions – that affect life way beyond its own borders.

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