PhotoA coalition of privacy rights advocates and civil-liberties groups opposed to the proposed Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, is urging American citizens to wage a fax campaign against it – on the theory that if the government wants to impose Orwellian 1984-style surveillance laws on America, maybe circa-1984 technology is the best way to point out the problems with this.

The “Stop Cyber Surveillance!” website at StopCyberspying.com says that “CISA is fundamentally flawed because of its aggressive spying powers, broad immunity clauses for companies, and vague definitions of key terms. Combined, they make CISA a surveillance bill in disguise. … Congress is stuck in 1984. It doesn’t seem to understand modern technology. So we’re going to communicate with it in a way it’ll understand: With faxes. Thousands and thousands of faxes.”

Cybersecurity

“Cybersecurity” is actually pretty easy to get if you want it – simply use secure encryption to encode your data, so nobody can see it without the encryption key. Indeed, until a couple years ago, “use encryption” was bog-standard personal-security advice. In October 2012, the FBI's “New E-Scams and Warnings” website published an article telling smartphone users the then-surprising news that their devices were vulnerable to malware, and advised that encryption “can be used to protect the user’s personal data in the case of loss or theft.”

But the FBI changed its mind under current director James Comey, who hates encryption so much, he's asked Congress to make it illegal.

The reason civil-liberty and privacy advocates have a problem with the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act is essentially that it has little-or-nothing to do with “cybersecurity” but mostly focuses on “information sharing” – namely, letting private companies and government actors share private information about people without any warrants or constitutional oversight.

As Stop Cyber Surveillance points out, CISA “allows companies to share nearly ANY type of information with the government, including significant amounts of personal information.” The bill would also ensure that the “NSA and FBI automatically get all shared information and can use it for any number of reasons,” not merely those limited to cybersecurity, and private companies would be shielded from any lawsuits over sharing personal information.

The digital-privacy group Fight for the Future has developed and released an online tool for Operation: Fax Big Brother, letting people send faxes to Congress over the Internet (and also says that any tweet hashtagged #faxbigbrother will also be faxed). People can also call Congress at 1-985-222-CISA.

Eliminating privacy

Fight for the Future calls CISA a “dirty deal between government and corporate giants,” which “lets much of government from the NSA to local police get your private data from your favorite websites and lets them use it without due process. The government is proposing a massive bribe—they will give corporations immunity for breaking virtually any law if they do so while providing the NSA, DHS, DEA, and local police surveillance access to everyone's data …. and on top of that, you can't use the Freedom of Information Act to find out what has been shared.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, meanwhile, pointed out another problem with the “incredibly broad immunity” CISA would grant to companies engaged in spying on behalf of the government: “because of the bill’s lack of protection for private information and the ability to launch countermeasures[,] Any company that merely does significant (but not “substantial”) harm to innocent people or machines will not be liable in court.”

From an individual's perspective, the bill would weaken their own cybersecurity while rewarding companies who violate it, all while ensuring the government has pretty much free rein to monitor your communications.


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