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Rate My Amendment, How CISPA Attacks the Constitution


Jason Koebler wrote an article Thursday for US News.com that discusses the dangers of the new Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Yes, bear with me as we explore yet another acronym from the government, CISPA.

In his article, Koebler says, “…Experts say the danger level associated with CISPA depends on the answer to one question: Which Constitution amendment do you care about more, the First or the Fourth?”.

The idea behind CISPA according to the article and the congressmen who sponsored the bill is, that this will allow corporations and companies to share user information with the government without penalty or threat from general citizens or in other words, without getting sued by their users. Now, the government says this information is completely voluntary and, the companies are not required to share data. They are encouraged to share data only if it pertains to cyber-security and national security with the hope of stopping attacks from outside sources trying to steal information and other similar threats. The makers of the bill say it’s a two-way street.

In his article Koebler quotes Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, “ The government can say ‘you want our secret sauce, give us all your data, if you play ball with us, we’ll play ball with you.’”

Dempsey also goes on to say in the article that once the bill, “CISPA removes the legal barriers, it becomes harder for companies to resist those inducements, which can lead them to do things they’re uncomfortable with.”

From what I can gather from the article by Koebler, and the statements from the congressmen and Dempsey, this bill is opening a two-way street of “non-required” sharing of private users information and in doing so, skirts the Fourth Amendment. This leaves every private citizen who uses the internet vulnerable to the governments smooth talking proposals to the companies and corporations like Facebook, Verizon, AT&T, Microsoft and others.

Well. Now if that doesn’t box your ears and leave them ringing, I don’t know what will. I’m sorry, could you repeat the question? Which Amendment do I care about more? Why should that be entertained? 

Recently our government, via the FBI, put out a Request For Information regarding software that could be used to find “danger” words in social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as on search engines.  Is this the beginning of the end of free speech on the Internet?  Is this a violation of a reasonable expectation of privacy?

I’ve had a few conversations on this subject.  One friend pointed out that just as driving is not a right it is a privilege, so is the Internet.  We don’t have a right to use it, we choose to use it.  In doing so, we are subject to terms of use, just as we are subject to traffic laws.  While this makes sense to me, I can’t help but think about a few counter arguments.

If you are pulled over by the police while driving, can they just search your vehicle because they feel like it?  I don’t think they can.  Can the police show up on your doorstep and search your house, your phone, your laptop or your refrigerator?  Nope.  Please correct me if I am wrong on any of this, but it was my understanding that without evident probable cause or a warrant, the government in any form is not allowed to search and seize a private citizen or their property.  I would think that this would include intellectual property, no?  I know that might be a stretch, but if we can  sue others in court over the ownership of intellectual property, then does it not become just as tangible as your car?

What do you think about this? Do you think the government is over-reaching?  Is this legislation something we should support in the name of national security?  Is it in violation of the Constitution?

The Fourth Amendment states the following:  

AMENDMENT IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

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You’re Hired! By The Way, Can We Have Your Facebook Password?


Jon Brodkin, wrote an article for ars technica today about employers asking potential new hires for their Facebook passwords and usernames.  It seems that while most of the reported circumstances involving this scenario took place two and three years ago, the action has gained new tread.

According to the article, two senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), have asked the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to make a ruling on whether the requests violate federal law.

According to the article by Brodkin, Facebook stated that they could take legal action against the various employers, but have no plans to do so at this time.

In another article written by Brodkin, he includes a quote from the Facebook company,

“As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job,” Facebook said. “And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job. That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.”

Blumenthal,  is quoted by Brodkin saying these requests are an “unreasonable invasion of privacy.”

So my question is this:  Is this an unreasonable invasion of privacy?

By becoming a member of such social media sites, do you forfeit a certain amount of privacy?  If you are a Facebook user, and say you have 900 “friends”, and lets also say that you post daily life occurrences, personal opinions, photographs and the like, are you still technically, a completely private citizen?  Or have you now jumped into the public arena as some public figure, albeit on a small-scale.

The Sandra Fluke fiasco brought to light a few interesting media law questions.  She chose to take part in a public discussion in front of a mock committee of democratic members of Congress, camera’s rolled and Fluke offered her views and opinions on the topic to be forever part of public record.  Some argue that at that moment, her reasonable expectation of privacy lowered a great deal.

In the spirit of free speech, she has every right to express her views, as do Facebook users.  But, in doing so, it is possible that we are entering a new kind of public arena, opening ourselves to targeted criticism, and possible negative consequences and repercussions from things we say and post.

Is it different if you use the most private settings for your Facebook account?  If your account is completely and  unabashedly public, should that be taken into consideration?  Should these requests by employers be discussed on a case by case basis, depending on the level of privacy chosen by the social media user?

Is there anything wrong with potential employers asking for this information, to make sure that the candidate is the right choice for the company?

Employers do run credit checks on potential new hires, and background checks.  Is this any different just because the medium is different?  I’m not so sure it is.  I can see how both sides of this issue can be argued.  It will be interesting in the coming weeks to see what proposals for legislation manifest, and if this issue acquires new-found “legs”.