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CISPA: SOPA's Meaner, Uglier Cousin, Will Kill Your Privacy. Help Us Whip.

June 5, 2012 - by Conor Kenny

Stopping Congress from screwing up the Internet, again.

Earlier this year, people from all over the Internet rallied to stop SOPA and PIPA, the Internet censorship bills. That was great, but now members of Congress (and the telecom and media companies) are once again trying to destroy the Internet. With SOPA, they tried to give the government wide-ranging authority to shut down huge portions of the Internet. This time they’re going to destroy the your privacy. But not if we can help it.

What CISPA does

CISPA allows companies to monitor your Internet activities – Facebook, email, browsing, etc – and pass any of that information along that they think is related to “cybersecurity.” What does that mean, you may ask? Basically it means anything the companies think it means. And, because CISPA would supersede all existing privacy laws, that means companies can literally read your email and then decide which of it they want to share with the government. The kicker is that under current privacy laws, you can sue a company that misuses your information or violates your privacy, which gives the companies an incentive to be very careful with your information. CISPA would give companies legal immunity as long as they acted in “good faith.” Does that make you feel safe?

Then, once the government has the information that companies deemed relevant to “cybersecurity,” it can be used for all sorts of things. It will get plugged into the NSA database, which is used for a myriad of intelligence purposes, so forwarding a joke about a bomb and a plane could now land you on the no-fly list. Further, the government isn’t required to even pretend to restrict the information to cybersecurity uses. It could even be used in prosecutions or whatever other run-in you have with the government two decades after Facebook gave them your chat history.

Too long, didn’t read: CISPA makes it incredibly easy for companies to hand over your private information, they can’t be held accountable in a lawsuit or under privacy laws if they massively screw up, and then the government can do pretty much what it pleases with your information, which will probably be stored in a database long after you are dead.

Where CISPA stands now

The House passed CISPA in April (see how your Rep voted), though it’s doubtful many read the bill – it’s the PATRIOT Act all over again - but not before further expanding the list of things the government could explicitly do with your private information. Now it goes to the Senate, where there’s three different versions of the bill, including one sponsored by a senator who admitted he didn’t know how to use a computer. The three Senate bills all contain other provisions that differentiate them, but the all contain CISPA language that would invalidate virtually all consumer privacy laws and provide legal immunity for sharing data with the government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] has repeatedly stated that he intends to bring one of these bills, most likely S.2105, up for consideration on the Senate floor soon. Our friends in D.C. say they expect a vote in early June. This is going to start moving very quickly so we’re mobilizing now to defeat any Senate bill incorporating the CISPA language.

So now we’re reviving one of the tools we used to defeat SOPA: the grassroots “whip count.”

Whip counts are the sheets lobbyists use to prowl the halls of Congress counting votes before the vote occurs so there will be no surprises. Normally this is a closely guarded secret. We’re doing it in the open. Contacting your senator and asking them to vote against a bill is all well and good, but when we post their responses online, it shows the country where they stand before the vote, which further allows people to focus on those who have said they support the bill or are noncommital.

We built a whip count tool to track the votes. Now we need you to make a call or send an email and tell us what your senators said.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to the CISPA Whip Count page, find your two senators and contact them via phone or through OpenCongress’ ContactCongress feature.
  2. When you get a response (or see a newspaper article or video with their position), use the form to post it online.
  3. Even if you don’t get a response, use the call log sheet to let other people from your state know how many people have called that senator.

That’s it! Now sit back and watch the responses pile up as we see where they stand.

Go to it!



Want even more CISPA info? We’ve got you covered:

Finally, here’s an awesome infographic from the good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation

CISPA Infographic


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