US Lawmakers Want to Criminalize Whistleblower Sites Over TSA Leak

After the embarrassing Transport Security Administration (TSA) leak where workers failed to properly redact documents related to screening procedures, three Republican lawmakers want to criminalize whistle blower sites that reposted the document. The question here is, if successful, could that set the stage for other documents such as the leaked ACTA documents?

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

It’s been a long and winding road for the leaked TSA document story and it all started with a blogger discovering that a TSA document failed to properly redact a document that was posted online by the TSA. Essentially, the TSA posted a screening document while drawing black boxes over text that was to be redacted. Unfortunately, even in PDF format, the redacted text is not erased and one can uncover that text simply by copying and pasting it in any text editors.

The story hit BoingBoing and several other sites, making it one of the most talked about stories this week. It turns out, not only was it bad that the documents redacted sections weren’t properly redacted, but it was bad that the document was posted at all. So it’s no surprise

By Wednesday, the TSA said that 5 workers were put on leave as a result of the incident. It seemed as though the issues were being worked out at that point.

Given the repressed nature of the documents, it’s no surprise that the documents wound up on whistle blower sites like Wikileaks and Cryptome. It seemed like the wisest decision was to not attract any more attention to the documents. After all, the TSA did say that the documents were “outdated” and thus suggesting that it’s really a non-issue. So you’d think the issue was pretty much over save for some behind the scenes issues that needed to be dealt with.

No, let’s remind ourselves that there are lawmakers in this country that don’t have a clue about how the internet works. According to Threat Level, three Republican lawmakers are gunning to regulate whistle blowing sites over this document. From the report:

In their letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (.pdf) on Wednesday, Reps. Peter T. King (R – New York), Charles Dent (R – Pennsylvania) and Gus Bilirakis (R – Florida) asked, “How has the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration addressed the repeated reposting of this security manual to other websites, and what legal action, if any, can be taken to compel its removal?”

These Republicans are apparently seeking criminal repercussions for sites that repost the documents. Apparently, they have forgotten that even congress tried to intervene on behalf of record labels by tabling the DMCA in hopes that it would help stem the flow of file-sharing – which it did not. How can they expect a different result with this leaked document? After all, Wikileaks is hosted in at least a dozen counties, so how can congress even hope to stop the flow of this document?

Moreover, if this is an attempt to regulate whistle blowers, is that effectively trying to stop anyone on the inside from leaking something that could be much more imporant for public debate? Are these Republicans now, in effect, against public debate of certain topics? Let’s take in to account that ACTA was exposed through unauthorized repeated leaks where someone felt that the internal documents really should have been a topic for public debate. If sites are now criminally liable, given that the Obama administration has said that ACTA is a matter of national security and can’t release the ACTA documents officially, for exposing any documents deemed a national security issue, wouldn’t those sites simply move off shore if they still have ties in the US? Not only is this a futile attempt to stop the spread of the TSA leak, but it’s also an ill-conceived idea on many different angles – the Streisand effect being only one of those angles.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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