CISA and Privacy are not opposites

There is a view that many hold, this view is not educated. A view which was given to us from the moment we spawned as a living person. Some got this knowledge as they went to their church or temple. They were told about good and evil. When we started to go to school we got to learn about order and chaos. This last one matters, you see, the opposite that order and chaos represent has been used in books, in videogames, in TV shows and in movies. In the Avengers movie ‘Age of Ultron’, near the end of the film we hear a quote from Vision, played by Paul Bettany that matters: “Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites“.

You might not realise it but the gem that we have here is in the foundations of many issues that have been plaguing us in several ways. Let’s take a look at this in two parts. The first is a Guardian article (at called ‘Blackphone: privacy-obsessed smartphone aims to broaden its appeal‘. The very first paragraph is a quote that shows issues on more than one side “Privacy company Silent Circle has released a second version of its signature handheld, a smartphone designed to quell the data scraping and web tracking that’s become such an integral part of the digital economy in the last few years (and whose results might well end up with the NSA, if the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passes)“, now I have no issue with the data scraping part and for the most the term ‘whose results might well end up with the NSA’ is less of an issue, but the overall taste is about privacy, I have no issue with this. The next quote is an interesting one, which will matter soon enough “In the beginning, Janke said, the Blackphone project was just a way for people working for his security firm SOC, since sold, to call home without having their communications intercepted“.

You see, there is no issue with the message shown here, but what is linked to all this is the message that is not shown here. You see, this device should now be regarded as the most excellent tool for hedge funds managers, organised crimes and all other kinds of non-mentioned criminals, who will now get to do with ease and freedom the things they had to steeplechase around the block for. This device will allow financial advisors to take certain steps that they were too scared to do, all out of fear of getting caught. This device will be opening doors.

There is no issue with the approach Janke had, he was submerged (read: drowning) in a world where any slip up could mean the death of him, his comrades and perhaps even his family. So his need for security was a given. There is a need for such a device. I have written about the need for this device as early as 2009, so the fact that someone picks this up is not a surprise, so why are we looking at this?

You see, it is the mention of CISA that is part of all this. CISA or better stated the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act is sponsored by Republican Senator Richard Burr (North-Carolina). Why would anyone oppose ‘the bill makes it easier for companies to share cyber threat information with the government‘? Let’s be clear this is about dealing with Cyber Threats!

So what is a Cyber Threat? A Cyber threat is defined as ‘a malicious attempt to damage or disrupt a computer network or system‘, so we have the fact that this is about malicious attempts! So why would there be an issue? Well, there is because people and as it seems to be especially criminals, terrorists and Organised Crime seem to be allowed a lot more privacy than their victims, so in all this I see little issues pop up all over the place. This sounds all emotional, but what does the official text state? Well, the complete text is at, so let’s take a look at some parts.

Permits state, tribal, or local agencies to use shared indicators (with the consent of the entity sharing the indicators) to prevent, investigate, or prosecute offenses relating to: (1) an imminent threat of death, serious bodily harm, or serious economic harm, including a terrorist act or a use of a weapon of mass destruction; or (2) crimes involving serious violent felonies, fraud and identity theft, espionage and censorship, or trade secrets“, How can we be opposed to this? Is this not the foundation of growing fair play?

Well, that is partially the question. You see, the issue is in part the language. Consider this paraphrase which remains correct in light of the previous statement: “Permits local agencies to use shared indicators (with the consent of the entity sharing the indicators) to prosecute offenses relating to serious economic harm“. Which is now the floodlight of all this.

Now we get to the second part in all this, which is offenses relating to serious economic harm. Serious economic harm tends to be seen as pure economic loss, but it is not limited to that. For this we can look at the element ‘Loss of production suffered by an enterprise whose electricity supply is interrupted by a contractor excavating a public utility‘, which we see in Spartan Steel & Alloys Ltd v Martin & Co (Contractors) Ltd. In here the legislatively famous Lord Denning raised the issue of ‘Duty to mitigate loss’. Yet today, in the world of data and digital media, how can we measure that element? Let me show this through an exaggerated fictive example.

Microsoft raises the issue that as they required an investigation into acts that are causing serious economic harm to Microsoft. Unique software has been released that directly negatively impacts they trademarked business. The CISA could now be in effect to investigate data and data sources, but who minds that store? Who has that knowledge? Now consider that the person investigated would be Markus Persson, because his program ‘Minecraft’ is now stopping all people who are part of the Microsoft Gaming brand to continue.

So who will make that call? You might think that this is a ludicrous example, but is that so? Microsoft ended up paying more than 2 billion for it, so someone implying ‘Serious Economic Harm’ is not that far-fetched. This now becomes an issue for a timeline. What timeline is in effect here? With an imminent threat of death this is a simple matter, with serious economic harm that matter is far from simple, moreover will the claim be valid? I used the ludicrous Minecraft and Microsoft Games brand. Yet what happens when this is a lot more ‘grey’, what happens when this is Raytheon versus the Belgium based TTN Verhaert? A Technology Transfer Network (TTN) that has innovated the latest classified satellite navigation systems. Is it still a clear call as to what constitutes serious economic harm?

This act opens up a can of intellectual property, the one can everyone wants to swim in and the elected official channels do not even have a fraction of the minimum required insight to make such a call.

Section 9 gives us “Directs the DNI to report to Congress regarding cybersecurity threats, including cyber-attacks, theft, and data breaches. Requires such report to include: (1) an assessment of current U.S. intelligence sharing and cooperation relationships with other countries regarding cybersecurity threats to the U.S. national security interests, economy, and intellectual property; (2) a list of countries and non-state actors that are primary threats; (3) a description of the U.S. government’s response and prevention capabilities; and (4) an assessment of additional technologies that would enhance U.S. capabilities, including private sector technologies that could be rapidly fielded to assist the intelligence community

When we consider both A and B, we should look at ‘U.S. SEC drops Onyx insider trading lawsuit against Dubai men’ (at from September 15th. The quote here is “Smith said the Newman decision was ‘helpful,’ but that the SEC ‘never had a tipper’ or evidence that his clients received inside information”, one would think that this is where CISA could now step in. Alas, apart from the side that is implied by the CISA text: ‘assessment of additional technologies that would enhance U.S. capabilities, including private sector technologies that could be rapidly fielded to assist the intelligence community’, which according to Blackphone is not an option, we now see that this opens a door to ‘patsy management’ on how two unsecured parties, could be set-up through the use of Blackphone through encrypted conversations and when the two unsecured parties talk, they could be setting each other up thanks to the other two parties that were using a Blackphone. Blackphone here has no blame whatsoever, they would be offering the one part criminals desperately want, a secured phone. This now sets a dangerous precedence, not a legal one, because Blackphone is behaving itself as it should, the provider of secure communications, it is what people do with it that matters that part cannot be guaranteed by the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act. In addition, S. 754 has one additional flaw. That flaw is seen in the definitions, where we see that the earlier mentioned definition ‘serious economic harm’ is not specified in the definitions at all, so what definition applies?

Beyond that, we see the definition of a cybersecurity threat. In here it is important to take a look at part A and part B.

part a gives us: “IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subparagraph (B), the term “cybersecurity threat” means an action, not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, on or through an information system that may result in an unauthorized effort to adversely impact the security, availability, confidentiality, or integrity of an information system or information that is stored on, processed by, or transiting an information system” and part B gives us “EXCLUSION.—The term “cybersecurity threat” does not include any action that solely involves a violation of a consumer term of service or a consumer licensing agreement“, which sounds nice, yet how does it help stem cybersecurity threats?

You see, when you consider the letter send by UCLA to Chairman Dianne Feinstein in June last year, we see: “CISA’s inadequate use limitations risk turning the bill into a backdoor for warrantless use of information the government receives for investigations and prosecutions of crimes unrelated to cybersecurity“, which could be regarded as the biggest failure, but it is not, it is the part we see in “CISA requires that cyber threat indicators shared from the private sector with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) be immediately disseminated to the Department of Defense, which includes the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command. This new flow of private communications information to NSA is deeply troubling given the past year’s revelations of overbroad NSA surveillance“. It is the ‘be immediately disseminated to the Department of Defense’ that comes into play now. When we consider ‘Overbroad Liability Protection‘, which can now hide by giving that function to an intern so that “good faith” reliance remains is a potential risk that could be pushed by big business to hide behind the ‘dope’ who acts in ‘good faith’.

Is that truly the blackness we face? Well, that is hard to say, the fact that this act relies on ambiguity and is lacking certain rules of restraint, or at least certain safeguards so that data cannot leave the intelligence office is reasons enough to have a few more discussions on this topic. What is interesting is that CISA would create a fear, which Black phone addresses, yet in similar method other players will now receive an option allowing them to play large dangerous games whilst not becoming accountable, that new Blackphone could address several issues the shady commercial interest guy is very happy to exploit.

The question becomes, how does any of this make us any safer?

So now we get back to the Age of Ultron line. As we see that crime is becoming an orderly event, the fact that we tend to hide in chaos the issues that should be open for all is part of the dilemma we now face. Again we are confronted with laws that remain inadequate to deal with the issues that needed to be dealt with. CISA takes in my view a chaotic approach to keep a level of order that was delusional from the very start, from missing definitions to application of methodology. It is a cog not linked to any machine, proclaiming soon to be of use to all machines and in the end, as I see it will only hinder progress on many levels, mainly because it tries to circumvent the accountability of some. And this is not just an American issue. In that regard laws and the protection of the victims have been an issue for a longer time. We only need to look to the Tesco grocery store on the corner to comprehend that part of the equation.




1 Comment

Filed under IT, Law, Military, Politics, Science

One response to “CISA and Privacy are not opposites

  1. Pingback: Dangers of Android? | Lawrence van Rijn - Law Lord to be

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