There are many problems with funding our gigantic, intrusive federal government by passing gigantic omnibus bills in a blind year-end panic, as has become customary in decadent Washington, D.C. One problem is that voters don’t know what their “representatives” have slipped into those gruesome trillion-dollar pork sausages. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) is trying to repeal a controversial cybersecurity law that slipped under America’s nose in the omnibus package, despite public unease about similar measures in the past.
Amash raised the alarm in a letter to his colleagues on December 17, which he also posted for the public to read on his Facebook page:
On Wednesday afternoon, the chairman and ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) distributed a myth-fact sheet about the Cybersecurity Act of 2015—legislation that was negotiated in secret by a handful of members and then tucked into the omnibus appropriations bill. Their sheet contains inaccurate and misleading information. This cyber bill is the worst anti-privacy legislation since the USA PATRIOT Act.
He proceeded to list five myths and countervailing facts about the Cybersecurity Act, warning that — contrary to promises — the bill would increase government surveillance of citizens, making it easier for Internet companies to share information with federal agencies, which could use that information for purposes “completely unrelated to cybersecurity.”
Amash charged that Internet companies would be given a wide margin of error to “accidentally” share personal information about Internet users with the government, and they would have strong incentives to “overshare,” while enjoying extensive liability protection for negligent exposure of personal data.
Similar warnings were issued by civil-liberties watchdog groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, FreedomWorks, and TechFreedom.
“This would allow companies to share large amounts of private consumer information with government agencies, including possibly the FBI and NSA. This information can be used for criminal prosecutions unrelated to cybersecurity, including the targeting of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act,” said the ACLU, as reported by InsideSources.
FreedomWorks accused those who crafted the omnibus cybersecurity legislation of “selling out Americans’ privacy for the illusion of cybersecurity.” Much as Rep. Amash would later warn in his letter to colleagues, FreedomWorks worried the bill was “littered with vague language that will give authority to federal agencies to gather private data on innocent Americans.”
The Daily Dot cited an analysis from the Open Technology Institute that found “citizens’ privacy would be more adversely affected by the final language of the omnibus bill than by CISA drafts.”
Reason agreed that the hidden omnibus version of CISA was even worse than the original, noting that some of the few concessions to privacy won by civil libertarians were actually stripped out at the last minute, including “a requirement that corporations and agencies do their best to scrub and anonymize the shared data. The final version contains no such meager measures.”
Also, there is no way to learn what the government is doing with our private data, because the data sharing will be immune to Freedom of Information Act requests, and the president can create new data portals at his discretion if the portal established by the Department of Homeland Security turns out to be “flawed.”
The House Freedom Caucus tried to stop this latest incarnation of the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), complaining that the measures were shoved into the omnibus junk pile at the last minute with little opportunity for review, but the effort was unsuccessful.
After the omnibus dragged its flabby bulk off Capitol Hill and set forth to ravage middle America, Amash declared the new stealth cybersecurity legislation to be the “worst surveillance bill since the Patriot Act.”
“Many of my colleagues remain unaware that a massive surveillance bill was snuck into the omnibus,” Amash told the Daily Dot. “And if they are aware, they may have been misled into believing this bill is about cybersecurity.”
The Daily Dot notes that Amash’s proposed bill to repeal the Cybersecurity Act of 2015 will have to be introduced after Congress reconvenes on January 6.