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@CloudExpo: Opinion

Facebook, Beware! Fear the Patriot Act

This Onerous Piece of Legislation Will Now Live Until at Least 2015

The 21st of May has come and gone, and I'm still here. Not even a minor ground shake in either of my Ring of Fire locations (in Silicon Valley & Southeast Asia).

But this no time for rapture. Last week, quietly, Members of Congress reached an agreement that continues the God-like powers given to the Federal government over how it can track people domestically, what information it can seize, and why. The nefarious Patriot Act-a piece of legislation that's named about as accurately as Greenland-is going to be with us for at least four more years.

The USA Patriot Act, as it's formally called, passed quickly in 2001 after 9/11. It grants extraordinary powers to the government, the kind often found in wartime, the kind that rank with Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War and Roosevelt's internment camps of WWII.

Former Rep. Dick Armey-not a liberal fave or warm and fuzzy guy-did his best to build "sunset" provisions into the act when it first became law. He assumed that the US in all its might would have found Osama bin Laden and wrapped up this Al Qaeda nonsense by 2005, so set that year for the act's expiration.

Armey's idea didn't fly, and the act has been with us all along. It was set to expire early this year. First it got extended for 90 days, and now it's expected to be around until at least 2015.

I've Got Nothing to Hide
I often wonder if people who say "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about" are fascists or just foolish.

The idea that anyone can just start going through your stuff at any time, without telling you about it, then use anything that's found to develop serious charges against you, valid or not, runs about as counter to what America is all about generally and what the Fourth Amendment is about particularly as anything imaginable.

Imagine the outcry if the United States government started shutting down newspapers and radio stations, or if agents suddenly showed up on everyone's doorstep to confiscate their guns. Imagine if National Guard troops showed up at doors, demanding to be fed and housed. Imagine if you suddenly the courts said you had damn well better admit to a crime or face jail.

Those abuses would be rank violations of the First, Second, Third, and Fifth Amendments and would be shouted down immediately. Yet there seems to be little concern about the Patriot Act's flagrant flouting of the Fourth.

Centrist Radicals
Indeed, this is a time in which the reasonable middle ground is leading the stampede. The Members of Congress who oppose it come from the edges of both parties. Two dozen Republicans opposed extending it previously, as did many Democrats.

But now, an agreement has apparently been reached by those normally viewed as moderates. The Obama Administration has been annoyingly coy about this legislation all along, apparently afraid to look soft on terrorism but also lacking the spine to admit it's not so in love with civil liberties either.

Facebook, Beware!
The irony in this situation was reflected last week when Facebook came under attack for its approach to the privacy of its members. First revealed as the ogre behind a potentially ugly smear campaign against Google (aka the bear calling the moose brown), then accused of a stealth campaign against proposed privacy legislation in California, the increasingly friendless social networking monster was lambasted in Washington for its "indefensible" business practices...by a Rockefeller.

What's next? A lecture on child protection by the Pope? A call for humility and reasonable hairstyles by Donald Trump?

What Facebook, Google, and the other big data attractors absolutely must understand is that their rigid refusal to stop collecting personal data by hook or crook plays right into the hands of Feds empowered by the Patriot Act. The government has and will work to "persuade" these companies to give up any and all information deemed worthy of the continuing war on terror.

Now that President Obama has enabled bin Laden to swim with the fishes, would it be that he embraced Dick Armey's insight. Would it be that the moderate viewpoint in Washington wasn't the one that J. Edgar Hoover and Mussolini would have loved.

Would it be that top management at Facebook understood that the real battle they face with the government is not about limits to what they can collect, but an absence of limits over what they may have to reveal.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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