EDITORIAL: Hacking away at privacy

Computer-security bill is a gift from Big Brother

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When people look to government for answers in times of crisis, the politicians are happy to oblige, usually with wrong answers. The terrorist attack in Boston has everybody on edge, fearing further assaults — perhaps even to America’s online infrastructure. The more credible threat is to the liberty of Americans.

Freedom took a hit Monday as the House voted 288 to 127 to adopt the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA. The act is meant to protect the public from assaults to the computer infrastructure from hackers in China, North Korea, Iran and elsewhere.

To prevent this, the act allows private companies and the federal government to share information about threats. The bill’s sponsor, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, describes the bill as “voluntary” between corporations and the government. This comes from the same government that says paying your income tax is “voluntary.”

The fundamental problem with corporations turning to the government for help is that the federal government is utterly clueless about the Internet and what makes it work. The group known as “Anonymous” has successfully hacked the State Department, the Federal Reserve and the Commerce Department. Another group of overactive, computer-savvy teenagers took down OnGuardOnline.gov, a collaborative effort of 14 federal agencies dedicated to online security.

There’s a reason why. Technology marches forward relentlessly, and bureaucracies often move hardly at all. Unlike their private-sector counterparts, career civil servants have no incentive to learn the latest techniques or to stay as late as needed until they solve a problem. Federal involvement is more likely to encourage companies to protect themselves with obsolete methods that hardly protect them at all.

Worse, the bill creates a loophole in privacy laws to allow companies to share personal information, including the content of emails, with the government as long as it is done in the name of cybersecurity. Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, explains that the measure “grants corporations and other entities broad immunity to share your personal and confidential data (e.g., emails) with the government. CISPA overrides contracts and even federal and state privacy laws.”

Liberal and conservative groups alike, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, oppose legislative language that bribes corporations to give government unprecedented access to private information. Once handed over, the information could be used for non-cybersecurity “national security” purposes — a truck-sized “catch-all” phrase that can mean almost anything to anyone. Further, the act immunizes companies from litigation even if there’s a breach of privacy.

The coalition raising concerns offered suggestions to bridge the divide between privacy rights and national security, but Mr. Rogers disparages opponents as “14-year-old tweeters in their basement.” One of those “tweeters” apparently lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House says the president will veto the bill unless serious privacy protections are added. That’s good news. But private companies shouldn’t be looking for a bed in which to join Uncle Sam for protection from online threats.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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