Surf Your Way Into Jail

[Editor’s Note:  Please welcome BrainRants.  Funny story.  A few weeks ago 1jaded1 asked me if I read BrainRants.  I thought she was confused and meant brainsnorts, and I said yes without further thought.  Then a day or two later I received a comment from BrainRants and then realized that I was the one who was confused.  Sorry, Jaded.  If it’s any consolation this just proves you’re smarter than me.  Take that for what it’s worth, which isn’t much.

In the short time I’ve been following BrainRants I’ve found him to be witty, intelligent, articulate, hilarious, and crude.  And that’s my kind of people.  I’m now a card-carrying member (huh huh) of the Rants Army™.

As always, folks, please ensure you visit our guest’s blog and click on the almighty follow button.  You’ll be sorry if you don’t.  Hell, you may even become a card-carrying member, like me.]

“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.” — Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

I wrote a glib piece about proposed Amendments to our (American) Constitution a while ago as a lark, not really paying attention to the news article I read that sparked the idea. I found several respondent notions about strengthening privacy rights but ignored them. Then I came across another series of articles
that made me think a lot more about the subject.

First, let me describe some interesting facts about the internet. I found an in-depth article (link at bottom), which I’ll summarize by posting the graphic used by The Atlantic to scrape the surface of the issue:

Click it and make it big

Click it and make it big

What this picture means is that you, the web surfer, are on the right, clicking away at kittens, boobs, and whatever other things entertain you, my blog included. On the far left of the graphic are people who want to make money by selling things. In between you and the seller are hundreds of companies – perhaps thousands – who relentlessly track your web use. They want to turn kittens and boobs into money out of your pocket and into theirs.The same article pointed out that web privacy tools are becoming increasingly popular, much like the Do Not Call initiative was to stop telemarketers. The web, however, is far more insidious. There is no apparent proof that all the myriad companies that cull your data can’t still collect on you if you disallow cookies, for example. Unlike Do Not Call, ‘Do Not Track’ software is very likely ineffective, because while you’d never take the initiative and phone a telemarketer back, you’re damn sure not going to stop looking at internet cats and porn.

So does this data collecting harm you? Possibly. Can this tracking network help you? Of course it can – Twitter will suggest people you might like to follow based on your current follow list just as Facebook can recommend like-minded people to friend. Much the same way, if you buy a lot of Star Trek memorabilia online, odds are very good that you will in turn get a lot of Star Trek memorabilia advertising without lifting a finger to click your mouse. Google will get better at finding that hard-to-find Andorian ale carafe reproduction vendor.

The insidious side is that those same companies might also know, based on aggregated data that you provide yourself, that in addition to being a Trekkie, you happen to love Cheetos, drink a lot of coffee and Monster drinks, collaborate online in virtual chat forums. They will also know you are white, between twenty and forty, and work at a job that has nothing to do with your college degree, for which you are buried in student loan debt. They will know where you live and have a profile of your favorite activities outside of the web. Also note here that the in-between companies on the chart aren’t trying to sell something to you. They’re only interested in having and selling data about you.

While there are some establishments that might find this useful for additional advertising, most of this information just resides out there on the web, slowly painting a more and more accurate picture of you. To a reasonable person who knows how to click ‘delete’ or the ‘X’ to close a window, this might not be completely frightening. It might even score you free Cheetos and Monsters now and then.

Enter a new data customer: the Federal Government. It will come armed with a new law called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA if you prefer acronyms. Under provisions of this new law working its way through Congress, companies can hand over vast reams of data such as we’ve described here to the government – particularly to the Justice Department – in order to help identify and counter cyberterrorists.

You’re probably wondering exactly why Twitter, Google or Facebook would just up and give out user information, right? Or the constellation of other data-mining interests either, you might wonder. What if this same proposed law allowed the government to provide information – data it already has on people – without penalty, in order to help companies identify cyber threats and counter them?

Ostensibly, then, the company would be under no obligation to reciprocate. All of this is strictly voluntary, because without a warrant issued on testimony of probable cause, the government can’t collect information on you. However, private interests, who are not subject to the Fourth Amendment, are free to amass whatever mountains of data they like without legal penalty. But think about this a bit more closely.

If you run a business like Facebook, you’re a cyber target. It’s in your interests to take measures to protect yourself. Along comes the Department of Justice with a friendly FBI agent, who offers access to petabytes of user data that might just be useful to you in protecting your company’s digital assets. It’s all free, by the way, and did you know that you can contribute any information you happen to have on problem children to the friendly FBI agent if you so desire?

Maybe you still don’t think Facebook will throw you under the bus that fast. Keep in mind that publicly-traded companies have an obligation to make profits for shareholders, and digital businesses are still struggling to establish viable business models where no clear product or service exists short of charging fees for membership. Maybe you just went public, only have your IPO drop half its market cap in months. Maybe your digital empire is struggling to wrangle up new advertising dollars in a competitive environment.

Maybe you see an opportunity here now. Keep in mind there are hundreds of companies that will buy Facebook information merely to have it. Facebook profits, and the intermediary interest does too, selling digits downstream in the direction of vendors. Maybe everyone wins when big digital companies shake hands with the friendly FBI guy. There is no free lunch in capitalist societies, and the friendly FBI man will want some kind of gesture of return. After all, he has cyberterrorists to apprehend.

The FBI man is very diligent, and after he culls all the data that he was freely given in the deal, he’s very likely going to decide that your love of Star Trek memorabilia is no threat to the cyber- or national security of the United States. But the DOJ still has your information. Where else on the web have you been? What have you been doing on the side with your computer science degree to ease the mountain of student loan debt you carry? Do you like music, but hate paying for it? Let your imagination wander but this is the best-case scenario outside of ‘nothing else happens.’

You might not be a cyberterrorist. You might not be a national security threat. But every other Federal Agency in addition to the DOJ now can use the information that Big Digital felt grateful enough to volunteer, and if you broke the law you’re subject to punishment. Notice there are no scenarios of black helicopters without tail numbers swooping in and your existence being erased for all time. Just the potential nit-picking erosion of your money, time and life by the Fed one Gorgon head at a time, inflicting a slow death by a thousand cuts.

When I read the original set of articles, I noted that the ACLU is also fighting against CISPA’s ultimate passage into law. My initial reaction predictably went something like, “Oh, a new ACLU crusade, how quaint.” But then I thought about it. Screaming about the death of the Fourth Amendment will earn you a piece of sidewalk next to the Global Warming wonk and the guy who still believes Tupac is being held by the Fed against his civil rights. On your other side, you’ll have the guy who believes Dubya directed those two airplanes to fly into the World Trade Center so he could have his little war.

I’m not shouting about the death of the Fourth Amendment, and I’m not about to join the ACLU. I’m advising caution and I’m saying that if you see the same potential here that I do you ought to be concerned. The death of freedom doesn’t sound like black helicopter blades. It sounds like a guy in a suit who assures you that certain measures are for your protection.

How can you argue with that?

BrainRants’ site

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Article on how the web gets your information:

Articles on the CISPA:


About Twindaddy (337 Articles)
Sometimes funny. Sometimes serious. Always genuine.

40 Comments on Surf Your Way Into Jail

  1. Reblogged this on BrainRants and commented:
    TwinDaddy is a long-time blogger and the leader of a group of like-minded bloggers who write for Stuphblog. I noted the site because of the Star Wars theme, and the inner SciFi fan side of me had to investigate. I signed up for his Be Our Guest frequent flyer program, and posted this today… Enjoy!


  2. Thank you for the kind words and the opportunity to Rant to your audience!


  3. I’m concerned. I’ve always been concerned that businesses and companies seem to have more rights than we as people do. Thank you, lobbyists.


  4. Its all good, I will just need to make my millions and offer all of you an opportunity to become my minions. So I ask you, would you like to sign up as an Animockery Minion today?

    ***Disclaimer*** All arrangements to minion status are final. All members of the Animockery Minion Order are subject to constant verbal abuse and are not permitted to retaliate. Any member of the Minion Order can be ejected at any time without reason or provocation at the discretion of the Great Overlord. Any attempts to refuse orders from the Great Overlord may result in ejection them the Animockery Order of Minions and possibly death. All attempts to over throw the Great Overlord will result immediate ejection from the Animockery order of Minions and most likely death. All members of the Animockery Order of Minions will be required to pay financial tribute at any time dependent on the whims of the Great Overlord.

    All hail the Great Overlord and long live the Animockery Order of Minions!


  5. Great post, Rants! Nice to visit a new place…I like it Twindaddy. Nice diggs you have here…


  6. Well my all-time leader for search terms is “Mongolian porn,” so I’ll be a jail cell next to you. No worries.


  7. Dude had my ‘follow’ at Honorary Viking Funeral…


  8. I was born during Vietnam, but never was old enough to serve. I know I sound a bit alarmist, but I do worry that our rights are being slowly eroded in small pieces that nobody gets concerned about.


  9. I’m chucking my smartphone and moving to a town of 1.


  10. TD, my IQ is 1. I’m not smarter than you.


  11. Brilliant rant, Rants!


  12. I suspect this is all part of America’s ploy to take over the whole world. I mean, so many people are on FB, and there is a reasonable percentage of those people who are not American and who do not live in America, and yet the FBI is going to get our information… Well dodgy if you ask me!


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