Friday, 25 December 2015

CISA: Not the Christmas Surprise We Had Hoped For

United States, CISA, government surveillance, legislation, Ron Wyden, Access NowIt came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.

That’s right—the United States' Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) that we thought we had avoided has snuck into our lives, all but unannounced.

After months of much-publicized debate, a late-night, mid-December session of the United States Congress quietly tacked CISA onto a must-pass funding bill. On Friday, December 18, President Obama signed the bill into law, and so, CISA is here to stay.

Widely seen to align more closely with surveillance than cybersecurity, the legislation encourages companies to share cyber-threat data with the United States federal government by strengthening protections against privacy lawsuits for businesses.

In response, longtime opponent Senator Ron Wyden explained that CISA has only become more of a threat to individuals since its inception: “The latest version of CISA is the worst one yet – it contains substantially fewer oversight and reporting provisions than the Senate version did.  That means that violations of Americans’ privacy will be more likely to go unnoticed. And the Intelligence Authorization bill strips authority from an important, independent watchdog on government surveillance, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This will make it easier for intelligence agencies – particularly the CIA – to refuse to cooperate with the Board’s investigations. Reducing the amount of independent oversight and constricting the scope of the PCLOB’s authority sends the wrong message and will make our intelligence agencies less accountable.”

Nathan White, of digital rights defender Access Now, similarly had little patience for Congress' Grinch-like trick: “We’re all feeling a collective sense of deja vu. This is like a bad sequel where we all know the ending, but shouting at the characters doesn’t change anything. Just like the USA PATRIOT Act, CISA was a collection of old ideas that Congress had repeatedly rejected. And just like the PATRIOT Act, they re-wrote the final bill in secret and snuck it through Congress before most people could even read it. And just like the PATRIOT Act, CISA will be used for far more than members of Congress think that they are authorizing. Ultimately this will be embarrassing for Congress.”

Much as individuals did in response to the Patriot Act, now is again a time for users to take privacy into their own hands. The United States government is well-positioned to enter 2016 with greater powers of surveillance for Americans and non-Americans alike, but users must remember that privacy and anonymity remain universally recognized human rights. In 2016, it is every users’ responsibility to be just as stealth as Congress was when it passed CISA and provide no business with any more information than necessary.

Want to know more about government infringements of citizens' rights? Read on!

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