The House of Representatives has passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, also known as CISPA, on a Republican-backed vote of 248-168. But free speech advocates are urging the Senate to block the legislation, citing privacy concerns.
CISPA makes it easier for the federal government to work with the private sector to get and share information obtained on the Internet to thwart crime. The White House has threatened to veto the bill if the Senate passes it.
The Center for Democracy & Technology is disappointed that CISPA passed the House in what it calls a "flawed form" under a "flawed process." CDT worked with the House Intelligence Committee to develop amendments to narrow some of the bill's definitions and to limit its scope. Some of those amendments were adopted, leaving the bill better for privacy and civil liberties than it was in its original form.
"However, we are also disappointed that House leadership chose to block amendments on two core issues we had long identified -- the flow of information from the private sector directly to [the National Security Agency] and the use of that information for national purposes unrelated to cybersecurity," the CDT said in a statement.
Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., "wrote amendments to address those issues, but the leadership did not allow votes on those amendments," the CDT said. "Such momentous issues deserved a vote of the full House. We intend to press these issues when the Senate takes up its cybersecurity legislation."
Privacy Advocates Lash Out
The American Civil Liberties Union is also opposed to the legislation. The group called it dangerously overbroad and said it would allow companies to share citizens' private and sensitive information with the government without a warrant and without proper oversight.
"CISPA goes too far for little reason. Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans' online privacy," said ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson. "As we've seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there's no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity."
Beyond CDT and the ACLU, many other organizations are also crying foul, including Access Now, the American Library Association, Avaaz, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, The Constitution Project, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, OpenMedia.ca, Open the Government, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Reporters Without Borders, Reverse Robo Call, Sunlight Foundation, Techdirt and TechFreedom.
"CISPA would allow [Internet service providers], social networking sites, and anyone else handling Internet communications to monitor users and pass information to the government without any judicial oversight," said Electronic Frontier Foundation Activism Director Rainey Reitman. "The language of this bill is dangerously vague, so that personal online activity -- from the mundane to the intimate -- could be implicated."
SOPA or CISPA?
We asked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, to offer his take on the strong reactions from privacy and free speech advocates. He told us that some are comparing CISPA to SOPA (the Stop Online Privacy Act). Last summer, many popular sites, including Wikipedia, went dark for a day in protest of SOPA.
"There appears to be some sort of shadow relationship between the two bills," Enderle said. "CISPA is very anti-privacy and it smells a little bit like government overreaching. You understand why they want to get access to and share lots of information.
"The issue is that in the process of going after the terrorists they are getting massive amounts of personal information. Under the shroud of protecting people it is eliminating a lot of due process."