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CISPA Rushed to Passage

April 27, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

In a snap vote last night, the House of Representatives passed the controversial Cyberintelligence Sharing and Protection Act, more commonly known as CISPA. The final roll call was 248-168, with most of the Republicans voting in favor and most of the Democrats voting against.

According to the bill’s supporters, the idea is to make it easier for corporations and the government to share information about potential cybersecurity issues. But the bill’s text goes much farther than that. It would allow web companies to share virtually any information about their users with the government, without a court order. No prior privacy laws would apply.

Before the bill passed, an amendment was added to expand how the government can use shared information. Mike Masnick at the Tech Dirt blog explains:

Previously, CISPA allowed the government to use information for “cybersecurity” or “national security” purposes. Those purposes have not been limited or removed. Instead, three more valid uses have been added: investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crime, protection of individuals, and protection of children. Cybersecurity crime is defined as any crime involving network disruption or hacking, plus any violation of the CFAA.

Basically this means CISPA can no longer be called a cybersecurity bill at all. The government would be able to search information it collects under CISPA for the purposes of investigating American citizens with complete immunity from all privacy protections as long as they can claim someone committed a “cybersecurity crime”. Basically it says the 4th Amendment does not apply online, at all. Moreover, the government could do whatever it wants with the data as long as it can claim that someone was in danger of bodily harm, or that children were somehow threatened—again, notwithstanding absolutely any other law that would normally limit the government’s power.

The bill is under a veto threat from the White House, and the bill fell short of the 2/3rds majority that would be needed for an override. It’s unclear whether the Senate will be taking up the bill or if the bill’s supporters will try to amend it to get the Administration to back off its veto threat.

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