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Quick CISPA Update -- More Calls Needed to Protect Privacy on the Internet

June 15, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

“Early June” is over and the Senate never did vote on cybersecurity legislation as they were expected to. But that doesn’t mean their bill, and the internet privacy obliterating provisions in it, are dead. According to new reports, the supporters of the leading cybersecurity bill in the Senate are putting on a full-court press to hold a vote as soon as possible.

At PPF we’re basically agnostic on most of what’s in the cybersecurity bill. But there is one provision in it that we must oppose in our mission to support political participation on the internet. That is Title VII, “Information Sharing,” otherwise known as CISPA in the House. We’ve already written about this extensively on this blog, but basically the provision would nullify a bunch of consumer privacy laws and give corporations legal immunity for sharing personal user information with the federal government without a warrant. This would basically end any reasonable assumption to online activity being private, and we believe that privacy is necessary for free expression of political thought.

Interestingly, the hold-up on the bill has pretty much nothing to do with Title VII. The reason the vote hasn’t happened yet is that Democrats and Republicans disagree on whether “critical infrastructure” industries should have their internet security practices more closely regulated. Democrats and the military think they should, but most Republicans and power companies don’t.

It’s still unclear what this means for the privacy issue. We know that some Democrats are currently working on amendments to the bill that they claim will address our privacy concerns (reserving judgement until we see legislative text). If the partisan critical infrastructure issue gets resolved and the bill starts moving, it’s likely that the privacy amendments would be added as well because they appear to be supported by some of the main forces behind the bill (which of course is also a reason to be skeptical that they’ll be good enough).

However, if the partisan stand-off on critical infrastructure can’t be resolved, all we will be left with is the information sharing provision, which are basically bipartisan, and a desire to pass something that can be called a “cybersecurity bill” before the elections. In that scenario, the perceived political pressure to just pass something could outweigh privacy concerns and we could see something come out of a House-Senate conference committee that is slightly better than the House’s CISPA, but still very, very bad for privacy. Since the Obama Administration is one of the main voices calling for a cybersecurity bill, it’s easy to imagine them pointing to some small improvement in the conference-committee information-sharing bill, withdrawing their former veto threat of CISPA, and signing the thing into law.

At this point, our best strategy for killing the bad information sharing language is to flood the Senate with calls. We launched our public whip count last week, and still just 2 senators have come out against the information-sharing le‎gislation. That means there is a real possibility that (1) the improving amendments will not pass, and/or (2) the line in the sand on privacy is not strong enough to survive the pressure in the conference committee to move closer to the House’s CISPA language. So if you want to help protect privacy online, please go to our public whip count page, call your senators, and help us bring this thing out into the light. Right now, the special interests that want to get their hands on all of our private information and personal communications are trolling the halls of Congress and talking our representatives into voting against the public interest. In our broken legislative system, the rest of us are at a huge disadvantage. If you can, do your part to help by making two calls right now, just click here.

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