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Katznelson writes: "The government currently collects reams of data from private companies, some demanded, some handed over voluntarily. But we have no idea how much or how often, or maybe even more importantly, what is done with all these private details once they are in government hands. That is all kept secret. As citizens, we deserve to know what the companies holding our financial details, communications records, and other personal information are doing with it - and what the government is requiring of them."

Lockheed Martin employees at work in the company's NexGen Cyber Innovation and Technology Center, which monitors internet threats, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. (photo: Eric Schulzinger/Lockheed Martin Corp.)
Lockheed Martin employees at work in the company's NexGen Cyber Innovation and Technology Center, which monitors internet threats, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. (photo: Eric Schulzinger/Lockheed Martin Corp.)



The Patriot Act, Cyber-Edition

By Zachary Katznelson, American Civil Liberties Union

24 October 11

 

ybersecurity is the new buzzword in Washington, capturing a wide range of potential responses to internet-related threats both real and imagined. Congress is starting to play a role, considering legislation that purports to make cyberspace more secure. But many of the solutions being offered echo those of the deeply flawed Patriot Act, enacted ten years ago this month.

Just as the Patriot Act swept aside long-standing constitutional protections against government prying into private lives, current cybersecurity proposals threaten to expand the government's ability to collect personal information - even when there is no indication that the people targeted have been involved in any wrongdoing.

Over the past decade, we have learned that such policies fail on two fronts: they are largely ineffective and they violate civil liberties.

The Patriot Act presumes that if the government could know more of what we do with our daily lives by monitoring our e-mails and phone calls, downloading our financial transactions, and tracking our locations, it could spot patterns and find terrorists. The Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches have mattered little as claims of national security swept such concerns aside.

That thinking has led even further, to warrantless wiretapping and government databases so massive that numbers most of us have never heard of (like yottabytes) have to be used to quantify the data taken in. But counter-terrorism officials consistently lament being swamped with reports and analyses while trying to come to grips with the astronomical amount of data our powerful computers struggle to collate and interpret. In seeking the needle of terrorism, we have built the biggest haystack in history.

As we turn to the challenge of cybersecurity, we should be careful not to repeat past mistakes.

The Obama administration's plan again seeks to gather more and more private information about regular citizens in the hope of spotting patterns. Under this proposal, private companies would be asked to hand over increasing amounts of our personal information. Once more, information gathering would be incredibly broad, sweeping in law-abiding Americans against whom there is not even a hint of alleged wrongdoing. In the name of making us safe, we once again face the prospect of flooding our systems with excessive information, and hamstringing the officials trying to protect us.

There cannot be a meaningful debate about these policies until the public knows what the government is already doing with our private information. The government currently collects reams of data from private companies, some demanded, some handed over voluntarily. But we have no idea how much or how often, or maybe even more importantly, what is done with all these private details once they are in government hands. That is all kept secret.

As citizens, we deserve to know what the companies holding our financial details, communications records, and other personal information are doing with it - and what the government is requiring of them. For that reason, the ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about how corporations and the government already pass our private information back and forth.

To date, no government agency has revealed anything in response. Before Washington asks for even more power to sweep in data, surely it should disclose how much it takes in now. We must avoid the Patriot Act's pitfalls: a civil-liberties-defying policy that might actually make things worse.


Zachary Katznelson is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. He can be reached by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Comments  

 
+27 # futhark 2011-10-24 14:29
The founders of the American Revolution must be doing quantum leaps in their graves. The PATRIOT Act shows how little Americans know about or honor the ideals for which their Revolution was fought and how little has been achieved in establishing a government that honors inherent human rights, including the rights to free speech and political activity. Yet Americans keep re-electing and defending those very politicians who are responsible for this reprehensible transgression against all that it means to live in our highly touted "free society".

Find out where your senators, congressmen, and presidential candidates stand on the PATRIOT Act and use that as a basis for whether or not to support them for re-election.
 
 
+25 # bconcise 2011-10-24 15:02
Our tax payer funds should show some return on investment. Under the guise of increased safety, homeland security is spending a totally unidentifiable sum on activities counter to the Constitution. End Homeland Security. It is at war with us!
 
 
+10 # Doubter 2011-10-25 11:47
The very name: "Homeland Security" sounds like it came from Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany.
 
 
0 # futhark 2011-10-26 19:08
Nazi propaganda made much use of the term "heimat" (homeland) in linking German national identity to their fascist political system. With this linkage, anyone opposed to the existing political regime would be tainted as a traitor against the volk and the reich, as well as against the fuehrer, and certainly not a patriot. The Neocons have succeeded in making a similar linkage between those not supporting their militaristic approach to Middle East problems and "terrorists".
 
 
+24 # Carolyn 2011-10-24 15:52
Thanks to the ACLU for opening that door on our behalf, the 99%
 
 
+2 # RLF 2011-10-25 07:05
They do some good work and they also supported Citizens United and Corporate free speech. That is when I quit them...freedom right into the graveyard of history!
 
 
+7 # Rita Walpole Ague 2011-10-24 16:21
Kick us once, shame on you. Kick us over and over and over again, shame on NOBombAH, and shame on us if we remain on our dumber than dumb denial train, and re-elect the biggest disappointment ever, not so different in puppetry than W, the worst president ever.
 
 
+7 # iris 2011-10-24 21:48
hi! whats new? the injured workers alliances in all parts of the usa have known for decades that insurance companies routinely use blackmail to keep folks from trying to file medical claims..or going to court. especially for workers compensation. often they have to fabricate documents.. but as one lady said at a meeting 30 years ago "we are all being blackmailed"!. and yes many of us have proof. The insurance cartel is as immune as the banksters..iris
 
 
+11 # reiverpacific 2011-10-24 21:50
The very name "Patriot Act", like "Homeland Security", smacks to me at least of Nazism's nationalistic nomenclature ("Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer!", "¡Todo Para La Patria!" etc), or even, as we in 40's and 50's Britain were taught to sing in school, "Britannia Rules the Waves" (or Waives the Rules!) in the twilight of the "Sun never Sets" Empire, which thank goodness has faded into history, or has passed into US hands, both dirty with the sweat of slavery, military subjugation in the name of Imperial Capitalist Domination, dirty tricks and extraction to one degree or another.
Unfortunately, it appears that Americans lap up this phony wordplay like mother's milk and ask for more, to reinforce their feel-good cloak of exceptionalism, which is just what they are getting.
This is simply the latest manifestation of the inculcated military-worshi p with the owner-media as cheerleaders, especially the "Fix" crowd.
Personally speakin' they can poach whatever they like from my rudimentary internet skills and writings if they ever feel that I'm that important (doubtful). I have nothing to hide even as they drift back into McCarthyism and John Birch dementia, which would just make me more resistant and ornery.
Then they can "come for me" if it gives them some perceived sense of power.
Meanwhile -onward OWS and O---whatever!
 
 
+3 # Ralph Averill 2011-10-25 02:20
Where are all the conservatives who are always screaming about "original intent", "government intrusion into our personal lives", "government incompetence", etc., etc.?
Health care for all? Eek! Socialism! Secretly collecting vast amounts of data on law abiding citizens? Noooo problem.
 
 
+3 # fredboy 2011-10-25 06:46
The entire process has created a "them" vs. "us" mindset, directly damaging the national fiber and disuniting us--thus, in so many ways, its impact is clearly unpatriotic. At minimum, rename it. Perhaps Big Brother or King Spook would do.

Applying humor (if we couldn't laugh we would all go insane), I've often thought they might begin sharing helpful consumer advice as a sideline to their peering. If they notice we look up movies and scheduling, perhaps they could recommend similar movies and better locations. If we are online shopping cars, perhaps they could interrupt and share mpg, safety and pricing guidance. This may sound silly, but at least we could get some positive benefit from their annoying peeking.
 
 
0 # noitall 2011-10-26 22:28
I agree, we're paying for it so we might as well get services too. Maye we can order pizzas through them, surely they're not tracking evil doers 24/7. If we're the "evil doers" they can take a break while we eat.
 
 
+3 # MainStreetMentor 2011-10-25 07:49
“Open and Truthful” versus “Secure and Protected”. Without the prior, the latter breeds and incubates lies, clandestine actions, corruption and discord.
 
 
+3 # dregstudios 2011-10-25 19:40
Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the Patriot Act was adopted WITHOUT public approval or vote just weeks after the events of 9/11. Such an unconstitutiona l set of laws should be abolished seeing as they violate human rights and due process. A mere 3 criminal charges of terrorism a year attributed to this act, which is mainly used for no-knock raids leading to drug-related arrests without proper cause for search and seizure. The laws are simply a means to spy on our own citizens and to detain and torture dissidents without trial or a right to council. You can read much more about living in this Orwellian society of fear and see my visual response to these measures on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/living-in-society-of-fear-ten-years.html
 

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