“Allowing the military and NSA to spy on Americans on American soil goes against every principle this country was founded on.” –Rep. Jared Polis on House floor, 4/26/12
Congress on Thursday debated, amended and passed CISPA, a curious piece of “cybersecurity” legislation that would allow the government collect every piece of information you’ve shared with Google, Facebook and even your own company. The chief concern: There’s no telling what they’ll do with it.
By a 248-168 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives gambled with its sterling 14 percent approval rating by passing an Internet surveillance bill that likely does more to violate your fundamental right to privacy than provide any semblance of cybersecurity. More than 200 Republicans and 42 Democrats shook off a White House veto threat to cast their AYE votes, bowing to political pressure from high-powered lobbyists and tech companies who hate hackers (like Facebook) to pass the bill. Click here for the roll call to see whether your representative voted for it, then start drafting a sternly worded memo.
(If you’re unclear about what CISPA will do, or if you want to see the vague language in the bill, click here for more background on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, H.R. 3523.)
The lobbyists, tech companies and reps who voted for it are the real villains in this story. But there’s another player in this farce who deserves a (dis)honorable mention as well: Congressman Ron Paul.
Rep. Paul did not vote for CISPA. Obviously. On Monday he slammed CISPA, calling it “the new SOPA,” which technically it’s not. But surely the Texas congressman would take a day off from his presidential campaign delusions to vote against, even symbolically, what he called “the latest assault on internet freedom, an “alarming form of corporatism” and “Big Brother writ large.” Surely this man of principle, of character, of Constitutional integrity, would put aside his aspirations of higher office to stand up against a bill that “encourages some of our most successful internet companies to act as government spies.”
Nope. He was absent. He did not vote. He joined 14 other reps in the “Not Voting” column.
While your federal government was hard at work chipping away at Internet privacy and using the Fourth Amendment as toilet paper, Rep. Paul was rallying down in Texas. It’s impressive that he managed to draw 6,000 people to his stop in Austin, but how can he deliver any of his inspired limited-government rhetoric with a straight face after watching this vote happen from thousands of miles away? Was a $350-per-person lunch at the Austin Marriott South on Thursday really that much more important than voicing his opposition to a bill that does exactly what he says he’s most against?
Paul has not cast many votes while his campaign has been in full swing. Still, this is his whole schtick, and campaigning on ideas while ignoring reality is a troublesome path forward.
CISPA was going to pass with him or without him. And in some ways it’s unfair to Rep. Paul to single him out for not showing up when 248 of his colleagues actually voted for it. But if you’re going to craft your entire presidential campaign (and, ultimately, your entire persona) around issues like freedom and privacy and Constitutional principles, then you best be in Washington to defeat their challengers.
Paul’s communications director Rachel Mills responded to our request for comment: “His schedule was cleared and his flight arrangements made to be here to vote this morning on the bill, when it had been scheduled. Then, with 23 minutes notice they changed the schedule and voted last night. He had a full campaign schedule in Texas last night. He obviously regrets missing this vote.”
That’s a fair response, and it makes the critique come off a tad harsh. But this is Washington, after all. Perhaps Paul, given his experience, should have expected such a dirty rush vote. And besides, wouldn’t his voice during the debate carry some weight? Wouldn’t clips of his opposition on the House floor circulate like wildfire and aid the anti-CISPA cause? He flat-out missed his opportunity.
UPDATE: You disagree? That’s great! There’s room for discussion here. Hit us up in the comments. Hopefully his speech in Texas does more good than a symbolic vote. I obviously don’t feel that way.
The next step for CISPA? It has to pass the Senate first, which is not expected to happen any time soon. The Senate will take up the bill next month, and if it somehow passes the upper chamber, the White House has said it will not sign it. There’s little chance the veto will be overridden.
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