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One of These Things is Like the Other

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On September 8th, the President came to our college and talked about the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Sure, there are a lot of differences, but there’s one big similarity: Internet Freedom. Neither party wants you to have any.

Today we’re talking about privacy, which is enshrined in the penumbra of the First and Fourth amendments to our Constitution and is no less applicable online than in real life. On September 12th, our old pal Republican Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the same brain that gave you SOPA, brought us H.R. 5949. That’s the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2012 to its friends. On the Democratic side, our President wants to enact the failed Cyber Intelligence Sharing Act (CISPA) by executive order.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is our own little Star Chamber. You might remember when it provided the authorization to the government to surveil thousands inside the United States under the Patriot Act. It is worth noting that the FISA court approved 1,745 surveillance orders in 2011, and refused none. More recently the government admitted that it had certainly violated the rights of at least one American during these surveillance dragnets. So what does Rep. Smith want to do? Keep doing it for five more years! That’s exactly what this law does, it keeps the machine that violated our privacy in business. Our own Representative C.W. Bill Young voted for this law, it passed the House handily, and is now on its way to the Senate. If we only had to worry about the legislature, it wouldn’t be so bad.

Somehow it slipped the President’s mind between talking about jobs, and fairness; he forgot to mention his plans for hounding companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google for your personal information. It all started with the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Act in the House. It would allow companies like Facebook (who supported the legislation), Twitter and Google to hand over your personal information to the government without bothering to mention it to you. That passed, and Rep. Young voted for it, too. The Senate spawned two competing versions – The Cybersecurity Act of 2012, and Secure IT. Both were substantially similar to CISPA – privacy disasters, and security experts denounced all three. In letters published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Talking Points Memo, they said that the legislation in front of Congress would not protect the Internet. As the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 floundered in the Senate, under attack from civil libertarians such as Fight for the Future, and business interests represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the President wrote an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal. He presented a fantasy in which terrorists use the Internet to attack the United States. All for nothing – the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 died on the Senate floor. We thought we’d heard the last of this terrible law.

Ha! Like zombie Richard Nixon, its back. The President is working on an executive order that will resurrect CISPA. A leak of the proposed order has allegedly been seen by Jason Miller of Federal News Radio. The order, substantially similar to the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, encourages companies to share users personal information with the Federal government with no privacy protections at all. Mike Masnick of Techdirt claims that the order may pressure Internet businesses to share user data through a ‘name and shame’ policy. Any company in the shame column deserves your respect for protecting your privacy. At the end of the day, the proposed order would do nothing to protect our critical infrastructure from malware like Stuxtnet, which infected Iranian computers from an infected file on a USB drive. It never crossed a single inch of fiber to get to its target.

Those of you who’ve been reading The Sandbox’s Facebook and Twitter feeds have seen that the biggest security issue of the year was businesses and users using bad passwords. Spaceballs Dark Helmet should not be your mentor in password creation, 123456 doesn’t cut it. A White House Youtube video shared with prominent Internet businesspersons on password best practices would be a thousand times more effective in protecting the Internet than this executive order. All this does is put your cat photos up in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. Neither candidate is eager to talk about your LOLCats, and by LOLCats I mean specific parts of U.S. policy and law that restrict Internet freedom. If Mitt Romney and President Obama refuse to address these issues, maybe we should.

When Alexis Ohanian of Reddit talked about doing an Internet Freedom bus tour, suddenly Internet Freedom became a campaign issue. It generated some vague promises about respecting free speech and privacy from Democrats and Republicans. Whoops! Normally we have to wait for the election to be over with before politicians start breaking promises. The only way they will really treat your rights as an issue, and deal with specific problems, is if you hound them. Be polite, but don’t let them ignore you. For instance, you could go tell Mitt Romney’s campaign on Twitter, Facebook and by email how much you love your privacy. You could do the same for the Obama campaign (Twitter, Facebook, email), and send it to the White House (Twitter, Facebook, G+, email) too. Will it work? Will it make a difference?

By January 17th of this year, there were only two stories about SOPA, and one of those was fifteen minutes of an NBC VP yelling at Alexis Ohanian. On the morning of January 18th the Blackout was the lead story in every media outlet and SOPA was just a bad memory. We can do that again. The best thing about the Internet is that it makes the people who run our lives accountable. That’s just what I’ll be doing here, every week until the election. I’ll show you a specific issue dealing with Internet Freedom that neither party is talking about, and ask you to share your thoughts with those guys in the expensive suits. Next week, we’ll be talking about the biggest treaty you’ve never heard of. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, NAFTA and SOPA 2.0. Stay tuned.

Image courtesy of Fight for the Future’s Texas Billboard. Thanks for sharing!

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