How Your Information Could Soon End up in the Hands of the NSA — and What You Can Do About It

Congress just made it easier for the NSA and FBI to get your private information. 

Tucked into Congress’ 2,000 page spending bill passed today was a controversial cyber-surveillance rider. This provision, which was strongly opposed by the ACLU, is yet another iteration of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, which we have repeatedly criticized as a surveillance bill that would have done nothing to stop cyber breaches, such as the Anthem or OPM hack. In an apparent flip-flop, the Obama administration appears to support inclusion of the rider — despite his opposition to similar proposals in the past.  

Here is what the bill means for your privacy:

Companies can now share your private information with the government, preempting all other privacy laws. 

The bill allows companies to share “cyber threat indicators” with DHS, the FBI, and other federal agencies.  “Cyber threat indicators” are broadly defined and could include private information, such as your IP address (indicating location), email attachments,  other personal identifying information, even your private communications.  By default, there is no requirement that companies strip all personally identifying information before sharing this information with the government.  Though there are several laws on the books that prevent companies from sharing certain types of private information, these laws are explicitly preempted by the provisions.   

Companies will face no liability for sharing your personal information with DHS — even if there are negative consequences.

Companies face no liability — even when bad things happen — for information that is shared with DHS or potentially other agencies designated by the president (which could include the FBI).  So, consumers have little opportunity for redress in cases where their private information is shared without consent or even notice. 

Given that the liability provisions amount to a virtual blank check for companies that decide to share private consumer information with the government, it is no surprise that the some business  groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, strongly supported the cyber-surveillance provisions.  

Any information shared also goes to the NSA and FBI. 

Any information that is provided to agencies will be automatically sent to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, such as the NSA and FBI.  By default, all personal identifying information does not have to be stripped before these agencies get this information.  

Private information shared can be used to prosecute you for crimes that have nothing to do with cybersecurity.

The bill allows the FBI and other agencies to use information they receive to investigate and to prosecute crimes that have nothing do with cybersecurity.  Under the bill, this information can be used for crimes relating to protection of trade secrets,  fraud and identify theft, or the Espionage Act, which has been used to target whistleblowers.

So, what can you do to protect yourself?

Companies are free to decide whether to participate in these new “cyber sharing” programs.  They can choose to put their consumers’ privacy and liberty first — and keep private information truly private.   

That is exactly what consumers should demand.  And, if companies aren’t willing to make this commitment, we should take our information elsewhere.  

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Anonymous

So if people are murdered because they are targeted since their private information is shared with random strangers who think they have the right to spy on people then what? Will we finally understand that this is Nazi stuff? That's what it is. We are hostages and spaces with no rights whatsoever thanks to this. It's insane narcissistic abuse and can't continue. Wake up. This is not a joke it's actually happening no.

Anonymous

You're absolutely right, it's happening to me. My sister thinks i'm crazy, and is now quite insensitive to me. She's acting in a way that i've never seen her act, very unempathetic towards me. Its all around me...the unempathy and desensitizing of people's personalities. Well, i hope that you're doing well.

Anonymous

What we should be doing is campaigning for this insane bill to be removed, for Obama to veto it, literally anything to prevent this from happening. I plan on fighting it every step of the way, I've not given up yet.

Anonymous

Every time I read this stuff it's like someone punched me in the stomach. I don't live in a free country. Big Brother is watching and I already find myself self-censoring as to not invite unwanted attention. The NSA and FBI and president think they are so slick enacting these Stalinesque measures, but in the end, if they get their way, it will be the downfall of our culture. When people self-censor they are inhibiting their natural curiosity, creativity and innovation. I am self-censoring. I graduated college with a 4.0 GPA. I just may have been one of those people who would create and innovate, but I will only do so in an environment where I feel completely free and un-monitored. I am seriously considering just shutting down the WWW altogether. SMH

Anonymous

>if companies aren’t willing to make this commitment, we should take our information elsewhere.

It's simple, Americans just have to read literally all of the fine print they've ever signed/clicked off on ever.

Then, we just go back in time and unsign and unclick it all.

David Godinez

How can we find out which Democrats supported this bill?

Anonymous

Unconstitutional

Lisa Carroll

With all due respect to an otherwise very informative article, I think the "What can you do to protect yourself" section is quite pointless. I say this because isn't it also true that companies, businesses, libraries, ect, can be forced to share your data even if they do not want to, and they can be prevented from disclosing this to you?

Anonymous

Official U.S. policy is to add more hay to the figurative "haystack" making it nearly impossible to find the real terrorists while destoying innocent people in the process. This non-confrontational blacklisting deprives innocent people of "legal standing" to challenge this fraud.

It's driven by profit and fat agency budgets, having little to do with real safety or security.

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