The internet is in an uproar about a bill called CISPA, but why? Here’s a simple primer on what this bill is and why it (and all its lookalikes) needs to be stopped.
Do you remember SOPA and PIPA? These two so-called internet security bills would, in the words of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “hamper innovation, kill jobs, wreak havoc on Internet security, and undermine free speech.” We’re running low on outlets for true free speech in this world, so naturally, the interwebs were none too pleased.
In 2012, SOPA and PIPA provoked an internet-wide protest that saw some of the world’s most prominent websites go black, sporting only information pages about why the bills needed to be stopped. And it worked. SOPA and PIPA disappeared and we went about our business; but many knew the fight for our internet freedom and privacy wasn’t over. Turns out SOPA and PIPA were busy while on vacation, and now CISPA, a bill many are calling their “bastard offspring” is working its way through our government.
But what is this controversial bill, and why haven’t we seen the internet-wide blackout that SOPA and PIPA ignited?
Well, for one thing, America has had its fair share of distracting disasters in the last few weeks. But while we were mourning Boston, an even bigger threat to our rights was quietly passed by the House of Representatives. Although the Senate says it will shelve the bill in favor of drafting its own version, it’s imperative that Americans be informed about what’s at stake.
CISPA was introduced by U.S. Representative Michael Rogers (R-MI) back in 2011, but has received support from both sides of the aisle in the form of 111 co-sponsors. In an interesting twist, major web and tech entities such as Google, Mozilla, Wikipedia and Facebook, are not coming out in opposition of CISPA like they did with SOPA and PIPA. Some even support it. More about this later…
CISPA stands for Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). Sounds so nice doesn’t it? Who doesn’t love to share and be protected? If passed, CISPA would allow for voluntary information sharing between private companies and the government in the event of a cyber attack. If the government detects a cyber attack that might take down Facebook or Google, for example, they could notify those companies. At the same time, Facebook or Google could inform the feds if they notice unusual activity on their networks that might suggest a cyber attack (PG Mag).
WHY (Should You Care?)
Supporters of the bill say that it’s a necessary upgrade to the National Security Act of 1947, which does not cover cyber crimes. Politicians in the late 1940s couldn’t have possibly foreseen the pain of being hacked or becoming a victim of identity theft, so this part seems fairly benign as well. No one wants World World III to start because another country hacked into the military mainframe and fired off some missiles. While this is scary (but unlikely) it’s the other things the government and its corporate cronies could do with this power that’s truly terrifying.
Critics say that “CISPA is an affront to American civil liberties, and the privacy of its citizens.” According to the EFF, “the bill grants broad new powers, allowing companies to identify and obtain “threat information” by looking at your private information.” This would allow companies to easily hand over users’ private information to the government thanks to a liability clause (something that wasn’t included in SOPA/PIPA, and a main reason why big tech companies that opposed those bills now support CISPA. They have far less to lose). This, according to the EFF “essentially means CISPA would override the relevant provisions in all other laws—including privacy laws.”
With the recent passage of the NDAA, a measure that allows “indefinite detention of American citizens without due process at the discretion of the President,” the idea of who or what could be considered a “cyber threat” becomes much murkier. How many of us have shared criticism of our government or supported activists online? What happens if Facebook and Uncle Sam decide to create a handy list of online dissenters just in case? Your privacy and rights go out the window, that’s what.
And there’s also the reality that CISPA could not only enable–but possibly require–employees to provide their bosses with the passwords to their personal social media accounts. An amendment that would have prevented this was voted down by the House of Representatives. Lovely public servants, aren’t they?
CISPA was passed in the House of Representatives on April 26, 2012, but was not passed by the U.S. Senate. President Obama’s advisers have argued that the bill lacks confidentiality and civil liberties safeguards and they advised him to veto it. In February 2013 the House reintroduced the bill and passed it on April 18, 2013.
THE GOOD NEWS
CISPA is dead for now and the White House still says it will veto any cyber security bill that doesn’t adequately protect civil liberties. But the same administration also passed the NDAA, so take that with a grain of salt.
Image: danitgeek/deviant art