The Senate Wants to Make Internet Companies and Providers Spies
How much noise does the other shoe make when it drops? If the shoe is a law that would complete the development of a police surveillance state in the United States, it's almost silent.
Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee quietly sent a bill to the Senate that would require Internet companies (like Twitter and Facebook) and on-line Internet content and service providers (from giants like Comcast to more specialized providers like May First/People Link) to literally become part of the country's intelligence network by turning over to the government -- without any government request -- any posts on their systems related to "terrorist activities" and the identities of the posters.
News about the bill only became public when Reuters noticed and reported on it.
The provision, Section 603 of Senate Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, is terse, simple and frightening. If passed, it could force Internet companies and providers to turn over information on organizations, activists, journalists, researchers and even interested commenters whose posts touch on "terrorist activity": the over-used under-defined term that drives so much of our contemporary legislation. It would also encourage these services to monitor their systems for any material that could possibly be considered relevant to "terrorism".
Not only does the provision chill communications but it turns the Internet into a law enforcement agency and that would fundamentally change its character and the society it serves.
The full Senate will now debate the law and it will probably sail through in the Fall. The House hasn't announced a similar measure but, given who runs the House, such a companion bill is very likely.
"Whoever, while engaged in providing an electronic communication service or a remote computing service to the public through a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, obtains actual knowledge of any terrorist activity, including the facts or circumstances described in subsection (c) shall, as soon as reasonably possible, provide to the appropriate authorities the facts or circumstances of the alleged terrorist activities."
And its Section C specifies:
"Any facts or circumstances from which there is an apparent violation of section 842(p) of title 18, United States Code, that involves distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction."
The measure is chilling and remarkable for the vagueness of its defined "crimes", inclusiveness of its criminals and the mauling of one of our society's most important institutions: the Internet.