Tinkering with Internet freedom. Once you go down that road, there will be no turning back. It is coming and some of the giants of the business may end up, unwittingly, helping to regulate something that should stay as regulation-free as possible.
According to The Hill newspaper, an influential tech coalition is supporting a legislative measure offered by one of the architects of the PATRIOT Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.). The USA Freedom Act has the support of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, AOL and LinkedIn as well as, according to some lobbyists I have spoken to about it, the NRA and the ACLU. Over in the Senate, Sen Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) is offering a companion measure.
The balance between national security and privacy has become political boogeyman, especially since the Church Commission hearings and reports of the 1970s. There is plenty of blame to go around in both the private sector as well as the government. Some reforms since that time have gone too far, put national security at risk, and bad actors won may battles. But there really was not Internet, or at least not as we know it today.
This NSA-privacy discussion is a debate that former NSA and CIA Director Hayden has repeatedly said needed to happen. It’s too bad it has become a reactionary exercise. Keeping the Internet regulation-free and tax-free is quickly slipping away. It is a very wise business decision by the tech industry. Better late than never. Rather than watch from the political sidelines; however, they should’ve engaged the Congress and Executive branch on these privacy issues decades ago, way before the PATRIOT Act was even under consideration. Now they are seeking a political cover, from consumers.
The Snowden case handed civil libertarians, and anti-Americans, a politically golden opportunity and they are taking advantage of it. Why? Key provisions of the PATRIOT will expire soon. Let’s see what this Right-Left coalition agrees to do. There will be, and needs to be, opposition from both political parties.
Do most Americans who use the web have any idea what is at stake? Judging from the record-setting cyber-Monday sales data, I think they have other things in mind than Google Maps or the FBI. Updating the PATRIOT Act is needed, but so is careful balancing of national security, civil liberty, as well as, most importantly, Internet freedom.