How CISPA threatens our First Amendment rights

The latest 'cyber security' bill is less about protecting us from hackers and spies, and much more about using Facebook and Google to prosecute whistleblowers.

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The hearing concerned the confirmation of Lisa O. Monaco to head up the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The senators were keenly interested to hear about how the DOJ is prosecuting government whistleblowers for leaking information to the media, and how they can increase that number. Here’s one of the prehearing questions [PDF] Monaco answered:

Are there any steps that the Department could take to increase the number of individuals who are prosecuted for making unauthorized disclosures of classified information to members of the news media?

Her answer? She would direct the DOJ to “aggressively pursue” those cases – and she has. As Aftergood notes,

…the number of individuals charged with Espionage Act violations by the Obama Administration for disclosing information to the media without authorization is unprecedented and exceeds all previous cases in all prior Administrations combined.

The reasons? One is the intense focus on this demanded by the US Congress, inspired clearly by the Bradley Manning-WikiLeaks case. But another is the relative ease of tracing communications between inside sources and journalists via their “electronic footprints,” says Aftergood. And that is where CISPA comes in.

Having a private DM conversation with a journalist on Twitter or via a Facebook chat? Those convos are no longer private, if Uncle Sam says so. The very fact that a person with access to sensitive information is talking to the media is enough to make them fall under suspicion -- and to intimidate others from ever talking at all. 

By enabling the Feds to gain access to all of our electronic communications -- while offering legal immunity to companies like Facebook or Google who cooperate in good faith -- all of our electronic footprints can be shadowed, no matter where they fall. Private companies can just hand over any information that is requested, no subpoena required. And this doesn’t apply only to classified government information, as in the Bradley Manning case – it applies to anything with a copyright attached or that is deemed “intellectual property” by a private entity.

In short, it’s a war on whistleblowers and corporate leakers. And in that CISPA becomes a direct threat to the First Amendment.

This means that the fight against CISPA will be even tougher than it looks. That vague and overbroad language in the bill is not a mistake; it is what CISPA is all about, which means it’s unlikely to be amended out.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel less secure, not more.

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