For the past eight years, there have been so many intrusions to the civil liberties that Americans are promised by the Constitution that it’s hard to recount them all. Amongst the most significant are the Patriot Act, the removal of Habeas Corpus protections, and Wireless Wiretapping.
Now there is a bill in Congress that poses a new threat to privacy and to the independence of the Internet. The Cybersecurity Act of 2009, introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, seeks to create a new federal authority to respond to threats that may emanate online. It gives the President the power to shut down critical systems in an emergency. It also gives the Commerce Secretary authority to access any and all data it chooses from public and private networks.
While there is a real need to shield our electronic networks from lurking villains, this bill is written far to broadly and it gives the government too much discretion for defining when it would be invoked.
Here’s the funny part: James Osborne of Fox News has written an article that takes the administration and the Congress to task for stepping on the privacy rights of citizens. They never seemed to be too interested in the Bush administration’s incursions into privacy as enumerated above. But now such moves are viewed as power grabs that are on assault on civil liberties. Osbourne’s article doesn’t include any historical context on the liberties Americans have already been forced to forgo, but he does warn that…
“…the proposal to give the U.S. government the authority to regulate the Internet is sounding alarms among critics who say it’s another case of big government getting bigger and more intrusive.”
One of those critics cited in Osbourne’s article is Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I have to give Osbourne credit for including a response from the EFF, a veteran of Internet rights advocacy. On the other hand, Osbourne leans far more heavily on the views of the Business Software Alliance, an industry lobbying firm that, not surprisingly, thinks that business should play the dominant role in efforts to secure the Internet and protect citizens privacy. Presumably that is because they have done such a great job of it in the past (yes, that’s sarcastic).
The last thing we need now is for an industry that is motivated solely by profit to be responsible for systems that impact our national security and personal privacy. The solution can only lie in a cooperative effort that includes business, government, and the public. There is a even a place for Fox News in so far as they are inclined to provide information on this serious matter. It would just be nice if they weren’t so weighted to a tyranny of the corporation. It would also be nice if they could demonstrate some consistency by exhibiting a little concern for privacy violations incurred by the previous administration.