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Posted on May 16, 2016

Appellate Court Ruling on NSA Spying Seems Encouraging, but Rings Hollow

During the past few months a raft of federal government efforts designed to boost cybersecurity information sharing have sailed through the White House and Congress. Empirical evidence shows that these types of initiatives inundate intelligence analysts in ever-larger piles of noisy data. They can also eat away at the privacy protections we enjoy as we go about our daily business online. Luckily, privacy software like TrackOFF offers a means to help us keep better control of our online identities—and thereby protect our online privacy more effectively—from unwanted and ultimately counterproductive government intrusions.

In early February 2015, President Obama signed an executive order designed to enhance information sharing between firms and the federal government to buttress national cyber defenses. A few weeks later, Obama followed up the executive order by directing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to establish a cyber threat integration center that would act as a central repository for cybersecurity-related intelligence across the federal government. Most recently, in April 2015, the Senate and House passed different versions of a bill to protect firms that share data on cyber threats with the government from being sued. All indications are that President Obama will sign this bill if it reaches his desk.

Yet the federal government’s stabs at cybersecurity information sharing ignore at least two inconvenient truths about how Uncle Sam handles data today.

First, as Nathan Busch and I showed in a 2013 study, government analysts are already drowning in information.

Second, and more importantly, much of this information is of questionable value. One of the government employees cited in our study characterized the problem like this: “There’s a very fine line between information and s**t, and I think what we see a lot of times is that everybody’s swapping s**t.”

If historical patterns hold, then the executive and legislative branches’ latest moves to increase cybersecurity information sharing will likely provide little more than a clever pretext for our web browsing habits to be mined by already swamped government intelligence analysts, without significantly increasing our safety from hackers and online thieves.

To preserve the privacy rights that you and I enjoy on the web, privacy tools like TrackOFF provide a better way forward. It will be hard for us to swim against the feds’ cybersecurity information sharing tide. But TrackOFF gives us a way to float above it.

Austen D. Givens is Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity at Utica College in New York and serves as Research and Policy Advisor to TrackOFF. He can be reached via Twitter @GivensAD.