Congressional Fact Laundering

How a Fake Cyber Statistic Raced Through Washington by Joseph Marks.

The statistic you are about to read is false:

The statistic, typically attributed to the National Cyber Security Alliance, is that 60 percent of small businesses that suffer a cyberattack will go out of business within six months.

It appears in a House bill that won unanimous support from that chamber’s Science Committee this week, cited as evidence the federal government must devote more resources to helping small businesses shore up their cybersecurity. It’s also in a companion Senate bill that sailed through the Commerce Committee in April.

Both bills require the government’s cyber standards agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to devote more of its limited resources to creating cybersecurity guidance for small businesses.

Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen cited the figure in testimony before the House Small Business Committee in March, as did Charles Romine, director of NIST’s Information Technology Laboratory.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., ranking member on the Senate Small Business Committee, cited the figure in a letter to Amazon asking the internet commerce giant what it was doing to improve cybersecurity for its third-party sellers.

Reminder: The 60 percent of small businesses that suffer a cyberattack will go out of business within six months statement is FALSE.

The bulk of the article is an amusing romp through various parties attempting to deny they were the source of the false information and/or that the presence of false information had any impact on the legislation.

The second part, that false information had no impact on the legislation seems plausible to me. Legislation rarely has any relationship to information true or false so I can understand why false information doesn’t trouble those cited.

Congressional hearing documents could simply repeat the standard Lorem Ipsum:

“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.”

It has as much of a relationship to any legislation Congress passes as the carefully published committee hearings.

There is an upside to Joseph’s story:

The size and expertise of congressional staffs who write and vet legislation have also steadily diminished over time as have the staffs of congressional services such as the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service designed to provide Congress with authoritative data.

“Basically, [congressional staffers] have less expertise available to them, are more reliant on what other people tell them and it’s much easier for erroneous information to get into the political system,” said Daniel Schuman, a former House and Senate staffer who also worked for the Congressional Research Service and is now policy director for Demand Progress, a left-leaning internet rights and open government organization.

It’s what I call “fact laundering.” It’s like money laundering but legal.

You load your member of Congress up with fake facts, which they cite (without naming you), which are spread by other people (with no checking), cited by other members of congress and agencies, and in just weeks, you have gone from a false fact to a congressional fact.

An added bonus, even when denied, a congressional fact can become stronger.

Facts on demand as it were.

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