Privacy clashes with protection in cyber security

In Opinion
Courtesy of MCT
Courtesy of MCT


President Obama promoted a new defense against cyber threats with an executive order for cybersecurity during last week’s State of the Union address.

He declared, “We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”

Under the order, the government will build a “cyber security framework” with the private sector to share information on cyber attacks and threats, with the goal to reduce digital risk to critical infrastructure. The order does not include an enforcement mechanism. This will be left to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will lead the role in protecting critical U.S. infrastructure.

In accordance to the order, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was reintroduced in the House of Representatives on Feb. 13. CISPA is the contentious bill from last year that was passed by the House but never considered by the Senate.

Similar to last time it has sparked opposition from civil liberties advocates.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. and Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., offers broad immunities to companies who choose to share data with government agencies, much broader than Obama’s initiative. Unlike the new order, it permits companies to share user communications directly with the National Security Agency, and permits the NSA to use that information for non-cyber security reasons.

As the world around us becomes more and more computer-oriented, there is an increasing need for new security to protect us from hackers. We have backed ourselves into a corner with how much we rely on technology to keep our information and records. Now, faceless tech thieves can steal our secrets and dismantle our economy with a click of a mouse.

With that said, I oppose CISPA because I do not want the government getting a hold of our personal communications. Privacy is becoming harder and harder to keep the more we advance into a technological society. There is no reason to pass more legislation to provide the government with citizens’ information.

“The idea of ‘information sharing’ isn’t necessarily offensive in and of itself, but the question is what info will be shared, who can it be shared with and what can be done with it?” asked Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center,  calls CISPA a “civil liberties minefield.” He instead approves of “the approach set out in the executive order: Transparent, collaborative and under the direction of a civilian agency.”

Like other critics I agree that Obama’s executive order is a good first step in protecting the U.S. in the right way. The only problem is that an executive order is not a law and so we have to rely on private companies to comply.

“I think this can fairly be described as a down payment on legislation,” said Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel, in a Reuters interview.

As we continue to depend more greatly on computers, the more security we are going to need. If not careful, however, there could easily become a very thin line between protection and the risk of violating the citizens right of privacy.

We have entered a new state of vulnerability and created a new boogeyman to fear.

The future terrorists of the world might be holding a laptop instead of a gun or explosive, and we must start to build a strong frontline. I can only hope the government uses its power responsibly and does not create another civil liberty fiasco.

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