Increasingly, the U.S. government has shown an intense desire to "friend" you, to "follow" you, to get to know your every online move.
Now they're channeling that desire towards legislation that clears the path for authorities to work with companies like Facebook, Google and AT&T to snoop on Internet-using Americans.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act or CISPA, is wending its way through Congress where it could get a favorable vote unless elected representatives hear their constituents' concerns in time.
That's why a coalition of online rights advocates (including the Free Press Action Fund) have joined forces to kill CISPA before more of our online rights are lost to those seeking to turn the Internet into a massive surveillance complex.
Promoted to protect our national interests against a loosely defined horde of cyber-terrorists, CISPA goes far beyond its stated purposes, sacrificing almost all of our online privacy rights without any safeguards against abuse. It's the type of misguided Internet legislation that we have seen in the past, where government and corporations craft restrictive new laws without giving Internet users a seat at the table. Will they never learn?
Groups including EFF, Avaaz.org, Free Press Action Fund, ACLU, Access, CDT and the American Library Association have just launched "Stop Cyber Spying Week" so that Washington understands that the online rights of millions of Americans are not negotiable. In addition to helping Americans contact Congress, these groups have unleashed the power of Twitter against any legislator weighing a vote for this bad bill.The folks behind CISPA claim that national security interests make this surveillance necessary, but the bill's language is so vague and overreaching that it opens the door for rampant abuse. Here's what's wrong:
- CISPA would allow companies and the government to bypass privacy protections and spy on your email traffic, comb through your text messages, filter your online content and even block access to popular websites.
- CISPA would permit companies to give the government your Facebook data, Twitter history and cellphone contacts. It would also allow the government to search your email using the vaguest of justifications -- and without any real legal oversight.
- CISPA contains sweeping language that could be used as a blunt weapon to silence whistleblower websites like WikiLeaks and the news organizations that publish their revelations.
- CISPA would have a chilling effect on our ability to speak freely online by stoking fears that the National Security Agency -- the same agency that has conducted "warrantless wiretapping" online for years -- could come knocking.
CISPA could lead all too easily to governmental and corporate attacks on our digital freedoms. And while there is a real need to protect vital national interests from cyber attacks, we can't do it at the expense of our rights.
Facebook, which supports CISPA, now counts more than 800 million users worldwide. It's frightening to imagine a world where Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues could act with impunity to help the U.S. government keep tabs on all of us.
The goal of Stop Cyber Spying Week is simple: Get Congress to back away from this dangerous legislation. The only way to do that is by speaking out.
Follow Timothy Karr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TimKarr