We were just noting that the Senate is undergoing a fight concerning whether or not the Cybersecurity Act is going to go anywhere, with much of the fight being a tug of war over your privacy. Senators Franken, Paul and Schumer are supporting an amendment to add in more privacy protections. Senators McCain and Hutchison are looking to take away privacy protections and give the NSA much more power to violate your privacy and access your private info, with less oversight and without it having anything to do with cybersecurity.
The folks over at EFF have put together a nice list of reasons why the NSA cannot be trusted with your data. There are a bunch of reasons, but here are a few:
- NSA has a dark history of violating Americans’ constitutional rights
In the 1960’s, a Congressional investigation, led by four-term Senator Frank Church, found that the NSA had engaged in widespread and warrantless spying on Americans citizens. Church was so stunned at what he found, he remarked that the National Security Agency’s “capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything.” (emphasis added) The investigation led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provided stronger privacy protections for Americans’ communications—that is, until it was weakened by the USA-PATRIOT Act and other reactions to 9/11.
- NSA has continued its warrantless wiretapping scandal
In 2005, the New York Times revealed that the NSA set up a massive warrantless wiretapping program shortly after 9/11, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and several federal laws. This was later confirmed by virtually every major media organization in the country. It led to Congressional investigations and several ongoing lawsuits, including EFF’s. Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act to grant telecom companies retroactive immunity for participating in illegal spying and severely weaken privacy safeguards for Americans communicating overseas.Since the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) passed, the NSA has continued collecting emails of Americans. A 2009 New York Times investigation described how a “significant and systemic” practice of “overcollection” of communications resulted in the NSA’s intercepting millions of purely domestic emails and phone calls between Americans. In addition, documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU, although heavily redacted, revealed “that violations [of the FAA and the Constitution] continued to occur on a regular basis through at least March 2010″— the last month anyone has public data for.
- NSA recently admitted to violating the Constitution.
Just last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence—which oversees the NSA—begrudgingly acknowledged that “on at least one occasion” the secret FISA court “held that some collection… used by the government was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Wired called it a “federal sidestep of a major section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” and it confirmed the many reports over the last few years: the NSA has violated the Constitution.
There are more where that came from. All of these, however, raise serious concerns about why Senators McCain and Huchison seem so eager to allow the NSA to abuse your privacy even more with their amendments. What are they thinking? The EFF has put together an action page asking you to contact your Senators (which you can do via a handy site set up by the American Library Association). The EFF site is also asking people to tweet to their Senators, using the hashtag #defendprivacy and has set up a nice tool to make that easier as well (at the “action page” link above).
In the meantime, we’re still waiting for someone (anyone?) to tell us exactly why this bill is needed without resorting to hyperbole about planes falling out of the sky. If there’s an existing problem with infosharing, what is it? What law, today, is blocking this kind of infosharing? Until the government can explain that, it seems weird that they’re pushing for much greater spying power by the NSA and fewer privacy rights. How can they defend this when they can’t even point to what the roadblocks are?