Keep Hope Alive: Protecting the Internet
Opening my inbox, an unread email reads “It’s official: CISPA is back.” I remember that I signed up for that mailing list of Fight for the Future. I continue to scroll through the message which says the following: “We just got the official word that CISPA is back. CISPA would let corporations share all of your private, personal information with the government... with no restrictions…Congress needs to hear a strong, clear message from Internet users…This email, your love letters, your secrets and private conversations, your search and email history, what you say and do anywhere on the web...All these things could become a part of a government file on you that everyone from the IRS to local police would have access to.” Next the email tells me to sign a petition on cispaisback.com. I do so but with reluctance, realizing that much more needs to be done than just signing a petition by entering my email into a bar or donating to their cause. There is a good graphic describing what CISPA is and how it will affect people in the United States. Still, it just seems too passive to just sign a petition. In an instant, the words of Anti-Flag’s song calling for all political prisoners to be released, Mumia's Song, comes to mind where the singers yell that we must “keep hope alive!” So, I decided to write this article because I thought that it could do what the Anti-Flag song recommended that listeners do: inspiring people to fight back, in this case to fight for the internet.
For those fighting for free information the future looks bleak. Tuesday President Obama implemented new cybersecurity measures with an executive order. A technology magazine, The Verge, wrote that it opened “the door for intelligence agencies to share more information about suspected "cyber threats" with private companies that oversee the nation's "critical infrastructure”” but that it is voluntary. Additionally there is the problem that words like “critical infrastructure” can be defined in broad words which even worries the Heritage Foundation. Billionaire Kim Dotcom sang in his song Mr. President that “The war for the Internet has begun” and that we can’t let the government kill innovation, as he put it. He even warns that if we do nothing, “they will just blame it on the copyright,” and that we can’t let “Hollywood…[take] over our internet.” CISPA which has Orwellian name: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, would do something worse.
You may ask how this is possible. People who remember what has happened in the recent future may remember the online and offline action last year over SOPA and PIPA. There was a whole movement of people online and offline formed to stop the bills. There were even songs, like DNA’s music video PSA about both bills and the Internet Fight Song by Funk Vigilante, among others. Last year activists of this movement were successful in stopping CISPA, but with a new Congress it is back and is supported across party lines.
Still, I haven’t described CISPA at all. Summaries of the bill by certain online commentators might help. An article back in April in The Guardian expands on some of these criticisms as well. Dominic Rushe writes that “Privacy advocates are especially concerned about what they see as the overly broad language of the bill…[because they] fear the bill is a land grab that would give US authorities unprecedented access to private information while removing a citizen's legal protection.” This if followed up by what Donny Shaw of OpenCongress writes on his blog. He writes that CISPA is a bill that “would make it easier for corporations and the government to share internet users’ personal data” and that it is being “rushed forward in the legislative process.” Shaw further notes that “many long-standing laws that were designed to protect the privacy of individuals would be explicitly voided…[and] companies would be encouraged…to share information about their users with the government without a warrant and without disclosure, and they would be rewarded with legal impunity for doing so.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation basically follows what Shaw writes about the bill. They write that “CISPA…would provide a poorly-defined "cybersecurity" exception to existing privacy law…[which] also creates avenues for companies to share data with any federal agencies, including military intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency.” If this isn’t enough the bill will “give businesses the power to use "cybersecurity systems" to obtain any "cybersecurity threat information" (CTI) …At the same time, CISPA would also create a broad immunity from legal liability for monitoring, acquiring, or sharing CTI, so long as the entity acted “in good faith.”…[and] information provided to the federal government under CISPA would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other state laws that could otherwise require disclosure.”
What’s worse is that business entities across the field heavily favor this bill, unlike SOPA and PIPA where some entities like Google and Facebook were in opposition. If one wants to look into the further influence of these groups in crafting the bill, one must look at the top contributors that gave to the sponsor and co-sponsor of this atrocious bill. Searching across the internet with Zapmeta, one finds an article on OpenSecrets about this subject. The post, from April 2012, notes that “of the several dozen companies that have lobbied on CISPA, 12 have given [Mike] Rogers [the sponsor] or his leadership PAC…at least $103,000 just in this election cycle.” Then one would look at the co-sponsor of the bill, which lives in my state, Dutch Ruppersberger. Thirteen of his PAC business group contributors (AT&T, USTelecom, Boeing, Exelon, Lockheed Martin, Verizon, Business Software Alliance, Intel, Oracle, Microsoft, National Rural Electric Cooperative Assn., Symantec Corp., EMC Corp.,) all supported the version of CISPA last year which gave him collectively $59,500 in the last election cycle according to the most recent data from OpenSecrets. One of these contributors, Verizon, even currently backs the bill according to OpenCongress!
Luckily for us activists the coming of this bill also provides an opportunity to shine light on two big entities that backed it according to maplight.org. These are the Financial Services Roundtable (FSR) and the Business Roundtable (BRT). In June of last year I wrote on my blog that the BRT and FSR are at the center of America’s financial elite based on the analysis by investigative journalist David DeGraw. To break it down for those that don’t know, the thirteen-year old organization, the FSR is “one of the most powerful groups in Washington, which represents nearly all of the world’s largest financial companies” as noted in passing in Charles Ferguson’s documentary on the financial crisis, Inside Job. This organization has spent over six million of lobbying each year since 2006 while contributing across party lines (mostly to Republicans) and its mission officially is to “protect and promote the economic vitality and integrity of its members and the United States financial system,” a.k.a. protect gangster capitalism. As for the BRT, this organization is even more powerful because it represents (according to its official website) “chief executive officers of leading U.S. corporations with a combined workforce of more than 14 million workers and over $6 trillion in annual revenues.” In his book Who Rules America? , Professor G. William Domhoff wrote that the Business Roundtable is “at the heart of both the corporate community and the policy-formation network.” This is made clear when one looks at the 200 corporate CEOs that are members of this organization who lead companies like AT&T Inc., Bank of America, Barclays PLC, Boeing, Cisco Systems, Inc., Citigroup, CSX, Conoco Phillips, ExxonMobil, DuPont, General Electric, Shell Oil, TransCanada, Xerox and Yahoo!, among many others. This list is even made smaller when one finds that eighteen CEOs sit on the executive committee of BRT including those of JPMorgan Chase, Wal-Mart, General Electric and Exxon Mobil. From these connections, it becomes impossible as I noted last June for “any law that will affect their interests…[to] pass without their ok.” The one who is heavily tied to them is Obama, who has given numerous public speeches to them, mostly to ask for their help which should disgust anyone.
After learning about the horrible internet bill, the FSR and the BRT, you may be thinking what you can do. One must remember what the late great Aaron Swartz said about the likelihood of another anti-internet bill: “it will happen again…but make no mistake, the enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared…There are a lot of people, a lot of powerful people, who wanna clamp down on the Internet.” This time, the struggle is not about the pirate movement, big music, or the fight to make internet use a human right. Instead it’s about defending our personal information from sharing among multiple parties. Already under Title II of the Patriot Act, the US Attorney General can allow a federal judge to approve an order that allows interception of oral or wire communications by a federal agency, intelligence agencies can engage in “roving” surveillance (surveillance that isn’t specified to a certain area), the government can use search warrants to open voice-mails rather than wiretap orders, federal agencies can intercept the communications of a “computer trespasser” and there is legal immunity for those who provide the federal government information. Still, this bill goes further by allowing private information, what the bill calls “cyber threat information” to be shared between the federal government, private security agencies and private companies without you knowing about it all. Even worse, you can’t take action if someone made a mistake with this information. To summarize, this law not only is unconstitutional (violates the fourth Amendment) but it goes against two Supreme Court decisions Katz v. United States and United States v. Warshak.
You may ask what you can do. One should engage in guerilla activism to stop CISPA, tell their friends about this horrible bill, and engage in direct action, along with any peaceful action you believe will help crush this bill. Letters and petitions are nice, and if you want to go that far then do that. Personally, as I said earlier that isn’t enough. In conclusion, hopefully Anti-Flag’s song, Got The Numbers will give some inspiration in this struggle: “You push and push a people, what are they to do?/Soon this corporate run government will be through/See, it doesn't represent the people anymore/Big business are the pimps and governments' their whores/We don't need more time to talk over a solution/We know what we need, we need a fucking revolution!”