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Senate Votes to Give DHS Cyber-Spying Immunity

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 28, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We previously wrote about a victory by Privacy International who successfully argued in court that the British Intelligence Services was in cahoots with the the United States in sending private citizens' information through PRISM. That suit spawned the online tool to see whether or not you'd been looked into.

Back on this side of the pond, things are not looking all that great, but that probably strikes most people as no surprise. The Senate "overwhelmingly" approved the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act on Tuesday, according to ArsTechnica. The effect of this is to immunize companies who share user data with the US Government Department of Homeland Security.

Boo ... Hiss!

Edward Snowden was quick to dismiss the measure as a "surveillance bill." Snowden, no friend to the US government intelligence community, opines that this is a step to provide corporate America a safe harbor when prompted to reveal personal communication files about " classified and declassified cyber threat indicators." Advocates say that the language of the bill doesn't require data sharing of personal identifying information and that, indeed, corporations must remove identifying data if they are aware "at the time of sharing" that it could be used to identify the consumers.

This is a bit specious because it leaves open the possibility, although actionable, that a company could unwittingly pass on information to government intelligence that would help federal and state agents identify someone personally. The Computer and Communications Industry Association certainly sees it that way. That organization has described the mechanism within the bill as an insufficient protection of user privacy that does provide appropriate limits on the government's prying eyes.

Cheers and Applause

Of course, guess who cheered the vote? The companies -- or at least organizations that align with their interests. The Retail Industry Leaders Association said, "We urge Congress to finish the job and get this legislation to the President's desk as quickly as possible." To them, the proposed bill is "common sense legislation." Differences in opinion, to be sure.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr of California and North Carolina, respectively, were co-sponsors to the bill as voted on. Burr argues that the bill will actually serve to protect private information from foreign hackers because American business and government agencies are cyber attacked on a daily basis. To be fair, it appears that cyber-security attacks on the United States have been increasing in number and severity.

It's Gonna Get Worse Before It Gets Better

The increased awareness of cyber attacks from foreign and internal agents will only fuel more legislative action that will be inimical to civil liberties advocates who have vociferously opposed any government move to liberalize data access on citizens. Given the trend over the last several years, indicators point to an increase in government "intrusion" into our private lives.

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