Fierce opposition by a broad alliance of companies and civil liberties groups, backed by innumerable internet activists, led to the demise of the detested SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIP (Protect IP) act earlier this year. And now, a worrying, similar rendition of these earlier bills has come into the limelight- H.R. 3523 or CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.
This bill has been accused of possibly intending to obliterate online privacy in the U.S. If passed, the bill will destroy current barriers restricting casual data sharing between the government and private sectors and such. To break it down, it would be possible to share information about how Americans use the internet and all earlier laws protecting online privacy would be superseded. All thanks to the immensely vague language used in authoring the bill, which under the semblance of America’s war against cyber attacks and in the name of security, the bill will basically let the government legally spy on everyone and even read personal correspondence such as e-mails of any sort, simply by labeling them suspect of cyber crime.
CISPA will also effectively allow corporations such as Facebook to share whatever user information they please, as long as they justify it by such vague concerns such as ‘degradation of a company’s network’. No wonder the social network has come out in support of CISPA, in stark contrast to the strong opposition by it against SOPA. Where SOPA would have hurt Facebook’s bottom line, CISPA will relieve certain regulatory burdens, provide immunities for the company, and generally profit the company- at the cost of its users and their privacy.
It’s not just Facebook supporting the bill though. The House Intelligence committee has letters of support from Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec, Verizon, AT&T, Intel as well as trade association CTIA (representing companies like T-Mobile, Nokia and Qualcomm among others).
Online advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have sharply condemned CISPA for what it means for the future of internet if passed. On the bill, EFF says, “It effectively creates a ‘cybersecurity’’ exemption to all existing laws. There are almost no restrictions on what can be collected and how it can be used, provided a company can claim it was motivated by ‘cybersecurity purposes.’” Other civil liberties groups remain steadfast in their opposition to legalizing such broad information sharing. A ‘Stop Cyber Spying’ campaign has been launched and an app called write-your-congresscritter-via-Twitter is present alongside. Over 670,000 people have signed an anti-CISPA web petition as well.
Representatives in defense of the bill argue that CISPA is an important step towards the government helping companies fend off attacks from other countries. It is insisted that information will only be used to this end. But it is true that the wording of CISPA does not corroborate these statements. Even an amendment caused the bill to be only slightly tweaked and the essentials remained unchanged. The bill will likely be used to punish file sharers rather than foreign hackers, if passed.
The good news in all this is that the White House expressed concerns about CISPA today. Obama’s administration’s opposition to the bill might just kill it ahead of its House of Representative’s floor vote next week. Although a veto was not threatened, it was voiced that information-sharing bills must preserve ‘privacy and civil liberties’; something that CISPA clearly does not do.
Keep your fingers crossed, and do whatever you can to prevent this bill from passing if you don’t want some company to hand over your personal information, confidential customer records and communications to anyone.