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CISPA is Back; All Your Data Are Belong to Us

February 14, 2013 - by Donny Shaw

Barely a year after the defeat of SOPA, Congress is back to testing the waters for legislation that many internet users believe to be in violation of their fundamental rights to privacy and free expression.

CISPA, a bill that would make it easier for corporations and the government to share internet users’ personal data, was officially re-introduced in the House on Wednesday. It’s already being rushed forward in the legislative process. The House Intelligence Committee is holding a full hearing on the bill today at 10 am. They will hear from four witnesses — all from the business sector and all known supporters of CISPA. No experts with concerns about privacy issues in the bill were invited to address the committee.

According to its sponsors, the goal of CISPA is to update how “cyber threat intelligence” information is shared between private entities and the federal government. In order to accomplish this, many long-standing laws that were designed to protect the privacy of individuals would be explicitly voided. With those laws out of the way, companies would be encouraged (but not required) to share information about their users with the government without a warrant and without disclosure, and they would be rewarded with legal impunity for doing so. The government would then be able to use the information that is shared with them for preventing cyber attacks or for any other law enforcement action.

Unlike SOPA, which divided the business community, CISPA enjoys overwhelming support from corporations. The bill’s broad and clear immunity protections appeal to companies that are already involved in the sharing of personal information in a vague, extra-legal setting. And there would be very little risk of public backlash for companies that share user information under CISPA since that would not have to disclose their participation to the public.

According to data compiled by Maplight.org on last year’s version of CISPA, interest groups that have publicly expressed support for CISPA spent 3.6 times more on congressional campaigns of House members in 2012 than interest groups that have come out against the bill. Many of the biggest investors in American politics have expressed support for CISPA, including the Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association, several major defense contractors, and all the big telecom companies. The list of organizations opposing CISPA is also extensive, but it’s made up mainly of public-interest groups that have far less money to invest in persuading politicians.

The re-introduction of CISPA comes less than 24 hours after President Obama announced his executive order on cybersecurity. The executive order compels the government to share cyber threat information with web companies, but it does nothing to increase sharing from companies to the government. From a privacy standpoint, the executive order is neutral. But during the State of the Union address, Obama called on Congress to pass legislation to “give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.” That’s an implicit request to pass CISPA, and a sign to Congress that the Administration needs the laws changed in order to get the rest of the information sharing program — from web companies to the government — flowing.

Ed. note: the Contact-Congress features in the right-hand sidebar of the CISPA bill page on OC are not working quite yet for known data reasons. In short, we don’t have the full data on the bill from the Library of Congress, so our features to email Congress can’t be hooked up at the moment. We’ll update when they are expected to work. But for now, please do share the bill page and visit CISPAisback from our friends at Fight For the Future to register your opposition. 2:30 pm ET, Thurs. Feb. 14th, 2013. -David

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