Empire Editorial: Keep feds out of Alaskans’ private data

  • Thursday, November 5, 2015 1:01am
  • Opinion

It came across like an email forwarded from grandma: Facebook is listening to everything you say.

Of course, it wasn’t true.

The social media network last year rolled out an optional feature that turns on your cellphone for 15 seconds to record what you’re doing and help you post status updates. The information isn’t stored, and it’s completely voluntary.

It sounded innocuous, but this feature was fractured through the prism of Internet discussion and gossip. Facebook isn’t listening to everything you say.

The federal government, on the other hand, just might be.

That sentence would sound like the language of tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists but for the revelations of Edward Snowden. While you might be ambivalent (as we are) about the whistleblower’s flight to Russia, the information he has shared shows the depth to which the federal government is eavesdropping on ordinary Americans.

Unfortunately, Congress appears to be a witting accomplice in this eavesdropping.

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 74-21 to pass the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a bill whose name is so misleading that it staggers even our cynicism.

CISA, as it is known in brief, supposedly allows the federal government to help companies protect their information from hackers. It may indeed do that, but its most significant effect is that it effectively creates a backdoor for the federal government to snoop into the files of ordinary Americans.

CISA allows companies to share records with federal groups like the National Security Agency. That agency in turn provides reports to the companies that explain where they are vulnerable to hacking.

If you decide that you, an individual, don’t want your records shared, well, you’re out of luck. CISA prohibits you from suing to block the transfer.

The companies are supposed to clear all identifying marks from the information, but the bill contains easy loopholes to get around that requirement.

The bottom line is that this bill allows companies that hold our information to easily and secretly share it with the federal government. Given the government’s track record on surveillance, we don’t trust it.

Nor, it appears, does the technology industry. Companies including Apple, Twitter, Yelp and Salesforce have all stated they are firmly against CISA.

The federal government is required to get a warrant to listen in on an American’s phone calls or read someone’s mail. This bill would allow more warrantless analysis of Americans’ lives, and Congress should not allow it.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska’s junior representative to the Senate, cast one of the 21 votes against CISA last week. “I voted against CISA because it does not adequately protect Americans’ privacy (or) engender confidence in fed. gov’t data security,” he tweeted after his vote.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, unfortunately, voted for the bill.

Alaska’s two senators and Rep. Don Young will have another opportunity to consider CISA when the version passed by the U.S. House is combined with the one passed by the Senate.

For Alaskans’ sake, we hope they’ll vote against the final version.

The Empire has long believed in personal privacy and public discourse. Given the federal government’s repeated infringement upon both, we feel we cannot trust it with this new authority.

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