If you thought the US government’s ability to spy on its citizens had languished of late, think again.

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Yesterday, Congress and President Obama approved the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a measure that lets private companies turn over consumers’ personal data to Homeland Security, as long as that data meets some broad and vague criteria of relevance to cybersecurity investigations. Homeland Security can then pass said data directly the NSA, the Department of Defense, and the FBI.

Tech companies, civil liberties groups and security experts have all decried this bill. How did it become law? Simple. House Speaker Paul Ryan attached CISA as a rider to the omnibus budget bill, a $1.15 trillion federal spending plan. If Congress and the President hadn’t approved the measure, we would be on the brink of another government shutdown right now.

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CISA is designed to help technology companies share information with the government about possible cyberattacks. The trouble, as Gizmodo’s Kate Knibbs explains, isn’t the concept, but the execution. Here’s an excerpt from her explainer on CISA that you should probably just read in its entirety:

The language in the bill is so broad that it could undermine existing privacy laws. Even the Department of Homeland Security said CISA could undermine the Stored Communications Act, which protects personal data from undue government prying.

Aside from screwing with existing privacy laws, CISA has no safeguards to prevent companies from sharing irrelevant personal information, just vague wording about the need for a “cyber threat indicator” to give up the digital goods.

The worst part about this—beyond the impending privacy shit show—is that CISA isn’t going to make America more secure. What it will do is create a centralized portal of information on millions of Americans—exactly the sort of thing that a clever hacker might try to exploit.

While it seems Congress caught the country between a rock and a hard place this time, it’s important to keep letting your representatives know that spying on Americans is unacceptable.

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[Wired | Ars Technica]


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