Why the New FISA Law is Bad for American Business

The bill would give the National Security Agency the right to collect such communications in the future without a warrant. But it goes further than that: It also would allow the interception and recording of electronic communications involving, at least in part, people “reasonably believed to be outside the United States” without a court’s order or oversight.

You read that right. It does not say people reasonably believed to be terrorists outside the United States. It does not say people reasonably believed to be involved with terrorists outside the United States. It says simply, reasonably believed to be outside the United States. In effect what is being said is if one is communicating (via telephone, internet, email or whatever) outside of US borders then it is reasonable to expect that communication to be surveilled.

Think about that for a minute.


I go out of my way not to discuss my professional life on this blog for obvious reasons but let me stray from that practice briefly. A very large and ubiquitous American corporation employs me in a management capacity. In this capacity I am reminded regularly of the significance of information security to our corporate welfare.

As managers we are required to attend bi-annual information security training courses. Our email communications are tightly controlled. The blackberry I carry with me is set to lock out moments after use. I carry on my person 24/7 an electronic SecureID device which generates a constantly changing passcode used to access my corporate network. In short, my corporate communications are more secure than those of most government agencies.

Ignoring for a moment the value of all of this security from a cost/benefit perspective, it is clear that my employer is very serious about ensuring that any and all corporate communications remain secure. When I convene conference calls or conduct direct communications whether via email or phone with internal peers who happen to live in Canada, Mexico, France, the UK, etc. – which I do on a nearly daily basis – my employer and I presume these communications to be secure as well.

That is reasonable right?

Well, you can forget about it. Under the new reading of the FISA law any and all communications with a person “reasonably believed to be outside the United States” is fair game. That means simply that every American business with communications overseas, which is quite a few in this “supply chain management” driven business culture, should presume their own government is spying upon them.

Everyone is up in arms about NAFTA and CAFTA and GATT right? Well, think for a moment about how many American companies in the past decade have set up operations somewhere outside of the borders of the U.S. It doesn’t take long to realize the impact of this legislation on corporate information security now does it?

And if you think you, living comfortably in your home in rural Iowa are not affected think about this. How about when you call for tech support on your PC or place a call to the customer service or billing center of your telephone or cable company? Those calls are nearly all being handled by call centers located outside the borders of the U.S. and should be presumed to be fair game should they not?

There was an old saying used to go, “what’s good for [insert large US Corporation here] is good for America.” That opposite of that saying is also true, what is bad for US Corporations is bad for America and this legislation is rotten. One can only hope that by the end of the 180 day period when this law expires we will see droves of Corporate lobbyists swarming the capital to ensure this thing receives the proper burial it deserves.

Others blogging this topic: Unqualified Offerings, Norwegianity, The Next Hurrah, Prairie Weather, Balkinization, Washington Monthly, The Anonymous Liberal, Marlene Lang and New York Times. Link courtesy of memeorandum.

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