CISPA passes through House: Controversial bill re-opens privacy debate

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By Thomas Scott

Though the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) has garnered less notoriety from the Internet generation than the notorious SOPA and PIPA bills, it may represent a similar threat to civil liberties online.

The opposition to the bill consists of a diverse mosaic of interest groups ranging from libertarians to established Silicon Valley companies such as Mozilla, the makers of the widely utilized Firefox web browser.

On April 24, the company released a statement articulating their disapproval for the legislation, mentioning that they “wholeheartedly support a more secure Internet” but that the “bill infringes on our privacy, includes vague definitions of cybersecurity” and that it permits “immunities to companies and [the] government that are too broad around information misuse.”

In spite of the entreaties of Mozilla and other companies, the House of Representatives passed the controversial legislation two days later. Despite the partisan culture which has pervaded Washington D.C., the bill maintains bipartisan support.

The underlying principle behind the bill is that the U.S. businesses are “hemorrhaging from the cyber looting coming from nation states like China and Russia,” according to Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) who sponsored the bill in the House.

However, companies such as Facebook, Verizon and AT&T support the potential law.

There is also significant disapproval for CISPA from the likes of Ron Paul and other privacy advocates.

In another recent development, the American Library Association (ALA) has declared its distaste for the potential law asserting that “CISPA would permit corporations like Google, Facebook and AT&T to share vast amounts of electronic communications and personal information with the government” and other entities all “in the name of cybersecurity.”

Moreover, the ALA claimed that “CISPA would establish a whole new system for our nation’s privacy laws and policies and legalize extraordinary intrusions into established privacy rights and civil liberties.”

In light of the vast number of cyber intrusions that have taken place, 116 of which were notable enough to report to the Department of Homeland Security in 2010 for assistance, the rationale of CISPA seems understandable. If an attempt is made to penetrate a company’s computer system, then that institution would hypothetically possess more flexibility in sharing information about the breadth of the breach, regardless of whether or not it jeopardizes an individual’s privacy.

But that’s the hitch for advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which insists that CISPA “would allow companies to bypass all existing privacy law to spy on communications and pass sensitive user data to the government.”

In fact, attempts to pass legislation that would require Internet Service Providers to maintain a record of their customers’ browsing history have failed on multiple occasions, the last attempt at which was made in 2009. CISPA seems to be an alternative route in gathering the same sort of information, considering the immense quantity of data, which now flows between citizens and private corporations online.

Take Facebook and Google for instance, both of which engage in data-mining, meaning they have amassed a humongous amount of information on all of their users, who constitute roughly four out of every five Americans.

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) initiated an online campaign whose intended aim was to draw attention to the legislation. Users can both sign an online petition and tweet their respective “member of Congress… about the kind of things [they] do online that are none of the government’s business.”

The EFF has also “vow[ed] to take fight” over CISPA “to the Senate” where the bill faces an uncertain future particularly in light of a recent pledge by President Barack Obama that he would veto the legislation.

For those interested in voicing their opposition to CISPA, the ACLU’s petition can be found at www.aclu.org/Stop-CISPA.

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