This week, as Americans were horrified by the attacks in Boston, both houses of Congress considered legislation undermining our liberty in the name of “safety.” Gun control continued to be the focus of the Senate, where an amendment expanding federal “background checks” to gun show sales and other private transfers dominated the debate. While the background check amendment failed to pass, proponents of gun control have made it clear they will continue their efforts to enact new restrictions on gun ownership into law.
While it did not receive nearly as much attention as the debate on gun control, the House of Representatives passed legislation with significant implications for individual liberty: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). CISPA proponents claim that the legislation is necessary to protect Americans from foreign “cyber terrorists,” but the real effect of this bill will be to further erode Americans’ online privacy.
Under CISPA, Internet corporations are authorized to hand over the private information of American citizens to federal agents, as long as they can justify the violation of your privacy in the name of protecting “cyber security”. Among the items that may be shared are your e-mails, browsing history, and online transactions.
Like the PATRIOT Act, CISPA violates the fourth amendment by allowing federal agencies to obtain private information without first seeking a warrant from a federal judge. The law also allows federal agencies to pass your information along to other federal bureaucrats — again without obtaining a warrant. And the bill provides private companies with immunity from lawsuits regardless of the damage done to anyone whose personal information is shared with the government.
CISPA represents a troubling form of corporatism, where large companies cede their responsibility to protect their property to the federal government, at the expense of their customers’ privacy and liberty. In this respect, CISPA can be thought of as an electronic version of the Transportation Security Administration, which has usurped the authority over airline security from private airlines. However, CISPA will prove to be far more invasive than even the most robust TSA screening.
CISPA and the gun control bill are only the most recent examples of politicians manipulating fear to con the people into giving up their liberties. Of course, the people are told the legislation is for “limited purposes,” but authority granted to government is rarely, if ever, used solely for the purpose for which it is granted. For example, the American people were promised that the extraordinary powers granted the government by the PATRIOT Act would only be used against terrorism. Yet soon after the bill became law, reports surfaced that it was being used for non-terrorism purposes. In fact, according to data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union, 76 percent of the uses of the controversial “sneak-and-peak” warrants where related to the war on drugs!
Sadly, I expect this week’s tragic attacks in Boston to be used to justify new restrictions on liberty. Within 48 hours of the attack in Boston, at least one Congressman was calling for increased use of surveillance cameras to expand the government’s ability to monitor our actions, while another Senator called for a federal law mandating background checks before Americans can buy “explosive powder.”
I would not be surprised if the Transportation Security Administration uses this tragedy to claim new authority to “screen” Americans before they can attend sporting or other public events. The Boston attack may also be used as another justification for creating a National ID Card tied to a federal database with “biometric” information. The only thing that will stop them is if the American people rediscover the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin that you cannot achieve security by allowing government to take their liberties.