Ever since the USA Patriot Act was signed into law, American citizens have had concerns about the unrestrained power such legislation grants the government. Scott did a good job explaining this in his post this week. That’s why, when I read about the newest cybersecurity bill to be reviewed by the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of the month, I rolled my eyes with the rest of America, thinking it was yet another piece of legislation to give the government even more leeway in freely snooping through our private information and communication. It might be just that.
This bill, an enlargement of one of the Pentagon’s pilot programs, would expand the areas which are subject to share sensitive threat information with the government. Instead of only defense contractors, along with their Internet providers, a much greater portion of the private sector will be included in the institutions who must share this information with the government.
Many groups in opposition to this bill, and the resulting increase in federal power, have been speaking out against this it. Leaders of the Electronic Frontier foundation assert that this legislation would “…give the government free rein to monitor communications, filter content from sites like WikiLeaks, or possibly shut down access to online services”.
House Representatives C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland (D) and Mike Rogers of Michigan (R), the two main lawmakers on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, have been the greatest proponents of this legislation. They claim that the purpose of this bill is not in the interest of increasing the government’s unchecked power, as its critics claim, but simply to allow the sharing of data and information containing dangerous software code (not content). Furthermore, this data would be given only to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If such information is used for any reason not pertaining to cybersecurity, Rogers and Ruppersberger claim that measures will be included making the federal government subject to private lawsuits. If they follow through on their promise to include these restrictions, this bill might fulfill its potential to augment America’s cybersecurity capabilities. If not, then its critics are correct in claiming that it’s simply another piece of legislation giving the government free rein to monitor our private lives and information.