Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Triplethought, Part 4

In Part 3 we considered the 2006-2007 push by the Bush-43 Administration and certain elements of Congress to gain the legal right to invade our on-line privacy and snoop on our use of the Internet under the pretext of protecting us from child pornography and other cybercrimes.

By 2008, proposals to what records should be kept and of who could snoop what were becoming more aggressive. Here are some excerpts from FBI, politicos renew push for ISP data retention laws by Declan McCullagh, April 23, 2008:

WASHINGTON--The FBI and multiple members of Congress said on Wednesday that Internet service providers must be legally required to keep records of their users' activities for later review by police.

Their suggestions for mandatory data retention revive a push for potentially sweeping federal laws--which civil libertarians oppose--that flagged last year after the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the idea's most prominent proponent.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told a House of Representatives committee that Internet service providers should be required to keep records of users' activities for two years.

"From the perspective of an investigator, having that backlog of records would be tremendously important if someone comes up on your screen now," Mueller said. "If those records are only kept 15 days or 30 days, you may lose the information you may need to bring that person to justice."


Based on the statements at Wednesday's hearing and previous calls for new laws in this area, the scope of a mandatory data retention law remains fuzzy. It could mean forcing companies to store data for two years about what Internet addresses are assigned to which customers (Comcast said in 2006 that it would be retaining those records for six months).

Or it could be far more intrusive. It could mean keeping track of e-mail and instant-messaging correspondence and what Web pages users visit. Some Democratic politicians have called for data retention laws to extend to domain name registries and Web hosting companies and even social-networking sites. During private meetings with industry officials, FBI and Justice Department representatives have said it would be desirable to force search engines to keep logs--a proposal that could gain additional law enforcement support, but raise additional privacy concerns and potentially conflict with European laws.


Multiple proposals to mandate data retention have surfaced in the U.S. Congress. One, backed by Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, said that any Internet service that "enables users to access content" must indefinitely retain records that would permit police to identify each user. Another came from Wisconsin Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a close ally of President Bush, and a third was written by Rep. Smith, who endorsed the idea again on Wednesday.


At the moment, Internet service providers typically discard any log file that's no longer required for business reasons such as network monitoring, fraud prevention or billing disputes. Companies do, however, alter that general rule when contacted by police performing an investigation--a practice called data preservation.

Did you catch all that?

Currently, ISPs cooperate and maintain records as needed, and particularly if requested to do so by the police.

This isn't good enough.

That crowd in Washington wants to be able to find out who accessed what, and when. And they want these records kept available for them - forever!

By 2009, a bill was under consideration that would just give the President control of the Internet - ostensibly during emergencies. From Bill would give president emergency control of Internet by Declan McCullagh, August 28, 2009:

Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.


The new version would allow the president to "declare a cybersecurity emergency" relating to "non-governmental" computer networks and do what's necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for "cybersecurity professionals," and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

The government wants to be able to decide who, in the private sector, may manage "certain computer systems".

But, it gets better! Skipping down:

When Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed it was vital to protect national cybersecurity. "We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs--from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records," Rockefeller said.


The privacy implications of sweeping changes implemented before the legal review is finished worry Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "As soon as you're saying that the federal government is going to be exercising this kind of power over private networks, it's going to be a really big issue," he says.

Probably the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to "direct the national response to the cyber threat" if necessary for "the national defense and security." The White House is supposed to engage in "periodic mapping" of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies "shall share" requested information with the federal government. ("Cyber" is defined as anything having to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks.)

"The language has changed but it doesn't contain any real additional limits," EFF's Tien says. "It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous (version)...The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process. There's no provision for any administrative process or review. That's where the problems seem to start. And then you have the amorphous powers that go along with it."

Translation: If your company is deemed "critical," a new set of regulations kick in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.

To be sure, the Senate seems to think this is excessive concern:

Update at 3:14 p.m. PDT: I just talked to Jena Longo, deputy communications director for the Senate Commerce committee, on the phone. She sent me e-mail with this statement:

The president of the United States has always had the constitutional authority, and duty, to protect the American people and direct the national response to any emergency that threatens the security and safety of the United States. The Rockefeller-Snowe Cybersecurity bill makes it clear that the president's authority includes securing our national cyber infrastructure from attack. The section of the bill that addresses this issue, applies specifically to the national response to a severe attack or natural disaster. This particular legislative language is based on longstanding statutory authorities for wartime use of communications networks. To be very clear, the Rockefeller-Snowe bill will not empower a "government shutdown or takeover of the Internet" and any suggestion otherwise is misleading and false. The purpose of this language is to clarify how the president directs the public-private response to a crisis, secure our economy and safeguard our financial networks, protect the American people, their privacy and civil liberties, and coordinate the government's response.

Since the Constitution gives the President the authority and duty to protect the American people and direct the national response to any emergency that threatens our security and safety, why don't we let the President go a little further? Food and clothing are necessary - why shouldn't the President secure these things from attack by establishing regulations deciding who can be hired to work at your supermarket or department store? We need to get around, and we are dependent upon cars and trucks. Why shouldn't the President decide what information must be disclosed about your car, and when it last had its brakes checked or oil changed?

And, if these things are important, shouldn't hospitals answer to the President? Oh, I forgot - Obama is way ahead of me on that one.

The government is interested in knowing who is saying what to whom, and they want to make sure that they have the power the hire or fire - or even render destitute - anyone in a position to stand in their way.

The First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Congress, together with the Presidency, is working very hard on making a law abridging our freedom of speech and of the press, and abridging our right to peaceably assemble - via the Internet.

As George Orwell explained:

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

The means to bring about this future is by controlling communications now; as Orwell explained:

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

Stay tuned for Part 5!

1 comment:

  1. Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past..indeed.