We’ve Been Betrayed by The Heritage Foundation

I spent most of Friday in disbelief.

The House was supposed to be considering the Cyber Intelligence Safety and Protection Act, otherwise known as CISPA, on Friday. Thursday I caught some rumors that it was being moved up a day, and when I got online Friday morning, I found that they had indeed voted on it, and it passed 248-168.

My disbelief wasn’t that it passed but rather that my Congressman, Tom Graves, had voted in favor of it. He has a 5-way conservative test for considering legislation, and I’m still not sure how CISPA passed his test. I think CISPA has some obvious Constitutional problems, and when I saw Graves’ vote, I felt (for lack of a better word) betrayed.

That’s not to say that Graves is awful and needs to be thrown out. On the contrary, Tom really is a pretty good Congressman, and he’s usually on the right side of an issue even before I offer my input on legislation. For example, he opposed NDAA, and he was opposing SOPA before everybody else. Graves wasn’t the only usually-good Congressman to vote for this bill. Several others shocked me with a vote for CISPA as well.

While asking around and looking for reasons why these Congressmen went the wrong way on this bill, I was told multiple times that The Heritage Foundation was a major influence in CISPA’s passing. How unfortunate. While The Heritage Foundation typically does a good thing, apparently when it’s wrong, it’s really wrong.

If you read what Heritage has to say about the bill (here and here), it sounds pretty good. Companies can share threat information if they choose to do so, and only if they choose to do so. The government benefits, the private companies can decide whether or not to participate, and there’s no mandate. Everybody wins.

Everybody, that is, except for the people whose data is being shared. Two things about CISPA really stand out to me:

There’s no judicial oversight for information being turned over to the government. The Fourth Amendment makes it pretty clear: no search or seizure without a warrant. One could argue it’s not seizure when a company hands over the information voluntarily, but with CISPA in place, even if I don’t want my data shared, the government can get it without warrant.

Companies that choose to release my personal information are legally protected. The protection of personal data is extremely important. CISPA allows companies to share private data, bypassing privacy protection laws, and then offers companies liability protection when they choose to share private data.

Does CISPA get the government more information that it can use to detect threats and potentially do good? Sure, but at what expense? As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The bad news is that this is a vivid reminder that we can’t just blindly assume that groups who are usually right will always be on the right side of an issue. The Heritage Foundation was wrong on CISPA but was unfortunately able to use its influence to convince some good Congressmen to participate in the dissolution of privacy in America.

The good news is that this bill isn’t exactly flying through the Senate. I’ve not heard when (or if) it will come to the floor in the Senate, but Obama has threatened a veto of CISPA. As Jason Pye points out, it’s a veto threat for the wrong reasons, but it’s still a veto threat.

Start reaching out to your Senators. We need to kill CISPA before this betrayal by The Heritage Foundation has lasting, unintended consequences.

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