Friday, January 25, 2008

Retromunity. Holding Everyone Hostage.

Two rl issues that touch Second Life Residents very directly are Retro-active Immunity and Net Neutrality. Both of these issues are going to be debated, and perhaps decided by a lame duck President whose approval ratings are below the IRS, and a Congress that is only slightly more popular. One is in the balance on Monday night.

As things stand right now there have been a complicated set of procedural battles. The Republican Party is going to vote, and has voted, grant retromuity. There is no consensus among the Democratic Party members as to whether to give retroactive immunity, and this has set up a complicated series of procedural battles over amendments to an extension o the domestic spying bill known as the "Protect America Act."

Retro-active immunity is being pushed because over the last seven years, repeatedly, illegal requests for wire tapping and broad hand overs of information have happened from telecom companies to the United States Government. This is your data, that the telecoms just happen to be in possession of. We are not free to unplug ourselves from the telecommunications grid, it isn't really an option to live with out telephone, internet and other forms of electronic communications.

This is a civil liberties issue, and, as i am sadly used to, one party isn't even interested at all, and the other party is a group of scattered sheep. Retromunity is a blanket grant to break the law, and it is being pursued specifically to protect people in power. It involves the use of blanket data mining, without any actual suspects, in the hope that someone might be found. It involves wiretaps without warrant and without accountability.

The bills before the Senate also project this going forward, they create a loophole that would allow this kind of unauthorized, unaccountable, unchallengeable wiretapping and data-mining in the future, by passing even the very minimal protections that we have.

There are two key votes coming up in the Senate, the most important one is a cloture vote. The reasons for this vote are a bit involved, but they work, in essence this way. There are two competing versions of the bill. One is the Judiciary Committee's version of the bill, the other is the Senate Intelligence Committee's version. The "default" version of the bill is the better version: the SJC version. However right now the Intelligence Committee's version has been tabled. The Republican Party's Minority Leader in the Senate, backed by almost all of his caucus, is filibustering all amendments to this bill, refusing to allow any up or down votes on any amendments to it. The vote on Monday is a vote for cloture, or a vote to limit debate, so that amendments cannot be offered, and, perhaps, the entire SJC version of the bill rejected. One of the amendments offered is for a 30 day extension to the law, to provide time to create a workable bill, since even if a bill clears the Senate, it must then pass the house and the Senate in a form that the two houses negotiate. So even if something were approved right now, it would not be ready to sign by February 1st, when the current, in my opinion bad, law expires.

Because of the divided nature of the Democratic caucus, majority leader Harry Reid has engineered these showdowns, because were he to block or promote one bill over any of the others, which he technically has the power to do, it would create a permanent rift in the Senate. His decision, for which he has received a great deal of criticism, is to let the process play out, and make people actually vote and debate. It hasn't been the most popular decision, and some people feared that it was a back door sell out. Instead, it is giving a committed minority defending civil rights a chance, not a good chance, but a chance, to strip the bill of its worst provisions.

So to make sure this is clear, because I've had it explained to me three times before I was clear. The Republican caucus is trying to run out the clock, and leave the Senate with two choices: do nothing and let the law expire, which would create a legal void on a series of law enforcement and anti-terrorism activities, and expose Americans to the perceived risk of terrorism, or adopt a bad bill in it entirety to make the deadline. They are willing to hold your safety hostage, and the extortion they demand is access, forever, to your private telecommunications data, whether you are in the US, overseas, in your home, or in the middle of the wilderness.

Or on the grid.

The vote to continue debate then, is a vote to actually work through a bill. It is not the end of the odious retromunity provision, or an end to the equally odious loophole provisions. But it is a chance for their end.

Right now only 38 Senators have said they will vote against cloture, and for open debate on other amendments. Several Senators have indicated that they might be persuadable on this issue. Even Jay Rockefeller, who architected the SJC bill has indicated he may want amendments to be offered. If you are an American Citizen, or a permanent resident on the road to citizen ship, especially if a constituent of the following list of senators, then it is very much in your best interest to call, and tell them that your data is your data, and you do not want Congress passing laws which tolerate, condone or erase law breaking.

Only one of these Senators is a Republican, the others are Democrats. However all of them need votes, from both parties, to win re-election. this is particularly true of people like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Johnson of South Dakota. This is not a party issue, though one party has a partisan interest in it. I posted the Detroit mayor news item specifically to remind people that infidelity is exactly one o those things that people can be blackmailed with, so long as the cold evidence is uncovered. How would you like nameless and faceless people, who want to bring you down, mining chat logs? Your inventory? Your friends list? Your voice chats? Your skype conversations? Voice conversations that you just happened to be in range of? The places you've visited?

Bayh (D-IN) (202) 224-5623
Carper (D-DE) (202) 224-2441
Inouye (D-HI) (202) 224-3934
Johnson (D-SD) (202) 224-5842
Landrieu (D-LA) (202)224-5824
McCaskill (D-MO) (202) 224-6154
Mikulski (D-MD) (202) 224-4654
Nelson (D-FL) (202) 224-5274
Nelson (D-NE) (202) 224-6551
Pryor (D-AR) (202) 224-2353
Salazar (D-CO) (202) 224-5852
Specter (R-PA)(202) 224-4254

Call your Senator and tell him or her to vote against cloture and allow debate on amendments to FISA.

It is not a victory, but it is a fighting chance to tell the government that our data is our data. The current bill would turn the whole telecommunications grid into one vast spyware application, usable at the whim of the oval office, or anyone else in government who can make a verbal and untraceable request.


  1. Lillie - this really opened my eyes to the issue. It is too bad that the process of lawmaking is so convoluted and difficult to follow. Majorities on both sides appear opposed to it, so maybe they'll come to their senses.

    ACLU Poll: Majority..."

  2. I think this is a case where people inside of Washington DC are breathing a strange and attenuated air that is cutting off the flow of oxygen.