04.27.2012 0

Sheila Jackson Lee: ‘I believe in privacy!’

By Robert Romano — “This is Big Brother on steroids.”

That is how Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, described an amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act” (CISPA).

The amendment would have authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security “to acquire, intercept, retain, use, and disclose communications and other system traffic that are transiting to or from or stored on Federal systems”.

Rogers said, as reported by CNET.com’s Declan McCullagh, “This would be the government tracking communications, your medical records from the Veterans Association, your IRS forms coming in and out of the federal government. This is exactly what scares people.”

“This is dangerous,” he exclaimed.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland took to the floor immediately afterward, adding, “This is the type of amendment that people fear.”

At first, Jackson Lee was prepared to defend her amendment, and had been looking for support, but she couldn’t withstand three minutes of criticism before she withdrew it, she says, because it was the Republicans had engaged in a “misinterpretation” of her bill.

“I believe in privacy!” she declared.

That’s rich.

Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson was relieved by the move, saying, “It is a good day for liberty when an Orwellian amendment so horrific that it would have authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security, a political appointee, to monitor the nation’s entire digital infrastructure and in the process, spy on Americans, was withdrawn from consideration.”

He added, “This police state on steroids amendment by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was a thuggish thrust at authoritarian control on all Americans. It is likely the amendment was about to go down to a spectacular bipartisan defeat. And deservedly so.”

Wilson cited “major problems” with the remainder of the legislation, however, and expressed concern that user data was already being shared with the government under previous war on terror era programs.

“Much of the debate surrounding CISPA has focused on provisions creating a right of service providers to decide whether or not they wish to share user data with the government. In the process, everyone has been pretending or assuming that the government is not already collecting and storing this data through various intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency,” he explained.

Wilson called for any existing government surveillance programs to be brought to an end and for Congress to “order the destruction of the data already in the government’s possession.”

But he said the debate over CISPA was creating a “false veneer of privacy” by ignoring that aspect of the debate. After all, what use is there for Internet and communications companies to opt in, or opt out, for that matter, of sharing data with the government — if the data was already “shared” years ago without their knowledge or consent and continues to be?

Sadly, the House did not have time to consider any of that. After it was done considering amendments to the legislation, it proceeded directly to final consideration and passed 248 to 168.

Just 28 Republicans voted no, along with 140 Democrats. Wilson called the vote “extremely disappointing.”

But, if nothing else, the brief floor debate on the Jackson Lee amendment to CISPA was revealing — not only of the type of police state perhaps she envisions — but also of what the House Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence thinks about this particular type of proposal.

“We cannot allow this to happen,” declared Rogers, adding, “This is awful. I’m just shocked… that my friends would come up with something that wholesale monitors the Internet and gets all of the information we fought so hard to protect on behalf of average Americans.”

Okay. If that’s what Rogers truly believes, then he should immediately direct the Intelligence Committee to investigate seriously and without prejudice claims made by former National Security Agency (NSA) official William Binney.

A whistleblower, Binney has alarmingly claimed in an interview with Democracy Now that the NSA has already been collecting and storing user data on and communications from U.S. citizens for over a decade now using a system he helped to develop. That includes tens of trillions of emails and phone calls.

If true, then the surveillance state is already with us, and Rogers’ perhaps well-intentioned efforts to secure privacy on the Internet — particularly against government intrusion — was lost years ago.

We’ll take Rogers at his word. If he is sincere in his belief that such police state programs cannot be allowed to happen, then he must use all of the powers of his committee to get to the bottom of Binney’s NSA claims, no matter how ugly what he finds is. Nothing less than the liberty of every American could be at stake.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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