Privacy and civil liberties: showdown time on the “Protect” America Act

Update on February 12: Final votes were today. Barack Obama voted against telecom immunity — as did Harry Reid and 29 other Democrats. John McCain along with every single Republican Senator, Joe Lieberman, and 19 Democrats voted for. More here.

Update on Super Tuesday: Ari Melber’s Nation article gives the current snapshot; read the thread for more.

Russ Feingold’s video on YouTube sums it up perfectly:

This Slashdot post on The Technical Risks of the “Protect” America Act is particularly timely given Paul Kiel’s TPMMuckracker update on the situation in Washington: the attempt to invoke cloture went down in flames, with Democrats in general hanging tough, and signs of movement among some key Republicans. This leaves the backers of the bill in a very tough position. (Update on 1/30: the House and Senate have both passed a 15-day extension. See below.) in 30 seconds.And now, on top of that:

A group of respected security researchers has released a paper on the security holes that would be opened up if a broad warrantless wiretapping law is passed. THe subject could hardly be more timely, as Congress is debating the subject now. Steve Bellovin, Matt Blaze, Whit Diffie, Susan Landau, Peter Neumann, and Jennifer Rexford have released a preprint of Risking Communications Security: Potential Hazards of the Protect America Act (PDF), which will appear in the January/February 2008 issue of IEEE Security and Privacy. It will hit the stands in a few weeks.

From Matt Blaze’s blog posting:

“As someone who began his professional carrier in the Bell System (and who stayed around through several of its successors), the push for telco immunity represents an especially bitter disillusionment for me. Say what you will about the old Phone Company, but respect for customer privacy was once a deeply rooted point of pride in the corporate ethos. There was no faster way to be fired (or worse) than to snoop into call records or facilitate illegal wiretaps, well intentioned or not. And it was genuinely part of the culture; we believed in it, even those of us ordinarily disposed toward a skeptical view of the official company line. Now it all seems like just another bit of cynical, focus-group-tested PR.”

Discussion and links here.

YouTube and Slashdot matter here because they expose the issue to large numbers of people who wouldn’t otherwise be aware of it. This dynamic lets courageous politicians, activists, technologists, and others who are willing to take a stand get the word out more broadly — and exposes those who are taking craven, opportunistic, and uninformed stances. In a climate where much of the mainstream media follows the administration’s and telco’s framing, social networking technologies allow other perspectives to be fairly heard … and gives people the information to make up their own minds.