Congress has been busy…not passing gun control legislation, mind you, but busy all the same. While national attention was focused elsewhere during this week, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) passed in the US House of Representatives by a vote of 288 – 127. The bill must pass the Senate, and overcome President Obama’s threat to veto on the Act on civil liberties grounds, before it becomes law.
For those unaware, CISPA would allow for the sharing of information, found by way of Internet traffic, between the US government and certain technology and manufacturing firms. According to the bill’s sponsor, Mike Rogers (R-MI), the bill is purportedly a security measure that aims to help the U.S. government investigate cyber threats and ensure the safety of sensitive networks against cyber attacks. However, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that actively works to expose government malfeasance, and various civil liberties groups, CISPA has far too few restrictions on how and when the government may monitor private citizens’ Internet activities. In their quest to chase cyber criminals and hackers, civil liberties and technology support groups are concerned that the government may overstep its boundaries by spying on the general public.
Not everyone objects to CISPA: TechNet — the computer industry lobby group, which has high-powered firms such as Apple, Google and Yahoo as members — is a strong advocate. They believe private companies will be able to assist by providing information to the government. Opponents see CISPA as ‘SOPA 2.0’ given that CISPA is postured as second attempt at strengthening digital piracy laws after the Stop Online Piracy Act met huge opposition. The Stop Online Piracy Act, had it passed, would have allowed the government and various corporations to censor the internet, and SOPA’s more stringent cousin, ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which was an agreement to create global intellectual property (IP) enforcement standards that reach far beyond current international laws but would have had the effect of killing innovation and shutting down entire websites. All of it opens the door to around-the-clock monitoring of the lives of private citizens by both the government and the companies that are paid to provide Internet access services to consumers.
A majority in the House of Representatives agreed with authors of CISPA who say that concerns have been addressed by amendments that provide for more oversight. They claim that greater attention will be paid to data before it is handed over to government officials. Um, yeah…we all know how well self-oversight has worked in the past. Hopefully, the issue won’t make it through the Senate; passing this legislation begins a quick trip down a slippery slope.