Far-reaching cybersecurity bill CISPA passes House despite civil liberty concerns


Big Brother is watching via Shutterstock



 By David Ferguson  
Thursday, April 18, 2013




The U.S. House of Representatives has passeds a controversial public-private data-sharing bill that President Barack Obama has said that he would veto should it reach his desk. However, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) must still pass the Democratically-led Senate before it can come before the President for his signature, an outcome that is considered unlikely in its current form should the president stand firm in his opposition.


The Act passed by a 288 to 127 vote in the House with some Democrats voting with Republicans. Supporters of the bill say that it will make U.S. cyber channels more secure from outside penetration by hackers. Others, including the president, say that the powers taken by the government in the bill will violate Americans’ privacy.


Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said the bill is essential to the nation’s cyber security and “must be adopted.” He addressed concerns about government snooping by saying, “This is not a surveillance bill. It does not allow the national security agencies or the Department of Defense or our military … to monitor our domestic networks.”


Under CISPA, private networks like AT&T and Facebook would be able to share user data with the federal government without sufficient privacy protections, according to the bill’s opponents. It enables the NSA to avail itself of security information and private data about individuals using the networks if the government deems users to be a threat.


Michelle Richardson of the ACLU said in a statement, “CISPA is an extreme proposal that allows companies that hold our very sensitive information to share it with any company or government entity they choose, even directly with military agencies like the NSA, without first stripping out personally identifiable information.”


She said that her agency will “work with Congress to make sure that the next version of information sharing legislation unequivocally resolves this issue, as well as tightens immunity provisions and protects personal information. Cybersecurity can be done without sacrificing Americans’ privacy online.”


House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement that he supports the new version of the bill although he shares some privacy concerns with opponents. “Despite those concerns, I believe that this is a stronger bill than last year’s, and that Congress must work together and move forward with legislation addressing this urgent national security issue,” he said. “I hope the Senate will pass a cybersecurity bill quickly so that we can go to conference and begin working toward a final bill that addresses the concerns that I and many Americans have about privacy, liability, and the efficacy of our efforts to defend against cyber threats.”


The Free Press Action Fund called CISPA “dangerous.” The Fund’s Policy Director Matt Wood said in a press release, “We are disappointed that the bill’s sponsors once again ignored the overwhelming opposition to this dangerous bill by the public, civil liberties advocates and even the White House.”


“CISPA would still obliterate our privacy laws and chill free expression online,” Wood continued. “The few amendments made to the legislation do not address all the concerns highlighted by the White House and by the representatives who stood up against CISPA this week. We need to make sure companies remove irrelevant personal information when they share our data, and that companies can be held accountable for ignoring and abusing Internet users’ civil liberties.”


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