Many headlines recently proclaimed that Congress averted another government shutdown. Fewer headlines proclaimed that the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill included several “useless provisions” and provisions that are not directly related to spending.
Techdirt reported on a couple of these provisions, including “a ban on giving any funding to [the (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now)] ACORN, the organization that was the target of scorn from Republicans a few years back… Following the pile on against ACORN years ago the organization shut down. It hasn’t existed in years. Preventing funding for it seems, you know, kinda pointless, as it doesn’t exist.”
Techdirt adds, “[an]other wacky provision… is in the omnibus [bill] no less than four times in different places: ‘None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to maintain or establish a computer network unless such network blocks the viewing, downloading, and exchanging of pornography.’”
This clause has been including on a somewhat regular basis since 2012, though Zach Carter from the Huffington Post says this language is “completely meaningless.” Obviously a ban on funding a defunct organization, or a meaningless prohibition of federal funds being used to establish or maintain a computer network that doesn’t block pornography are not the worst things for Congress to include in a spending bill.
One of the worst things included in the over 2,000 page spending bill is a provision completely unrelated to federal spending. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) and it’s previous iterations the Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) previously failed to pass through Congress as stand-alone measures. Vice reports, “lawmakers have stripped the very bad CISA bill of almost all of its privacy protections and have inserted the full text of it into” the omnibus spending bill. Adding, “CISA allows private companies to pass your personal information and online goings-on to the federal government and local law enforcement if it suspects a ‘cybersecurity threat,’ a term so broadly defined that it can apply to ‘anomalous patterns of communication’ and can be used to gather information about just about any crime, cyber or not.”
The Washington Times adds that private corporations would be encouraged “to share information about cyberattacks with the government” and would be free from liability. In essence, your internet service provider (ISP) will now be encouraged to give any information about your online habits to government agencies if they believe such activity can be construed as being valuable, and presumably you will be unable to file a civil suit against your ISP for any rights violations.
The inclusion of a modified version of CISA into the spending bill will definitely benefit the surveillance state which was dealt a symbolic blow when the NSA mass surveillance program was transformed with the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act earlier in the year. Hopefully as more people become aware of the rights violating provisions included in this massive spending bill that passed with bi-partisan support, people will realize that neither major political party will ever do anything to roll back the size, scope, and power of the federal government.