CISPA Passes the House: Why We Should Be Wary, If Not Worried

Last night, after nearly seven hours of debate, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) passed the House of Representatives by  a vote of 248-168. CISPA is intended to protect websites and the government from hackers by giving internet companies the authority  to reveal users’ confidential records without facing legal action.  The bill also allows the government to share classified information with companies to help protect computer networks to improve the government’s and private companies’ ability to share information about possible security threats from China and other countries. But opponents have critiqued the bill as being too broad and vague about what it would regulate as a cybersecurity threat and for infringing too much on privacy.

CISPA still has to pass the Senate; as of yet, there is not a corresponding bill. The Senate is working on a bipartisan bill that instead calls for the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to create regulations that would protect “critical infrastructure” such as the “electric power grid, water and sewer systems, transportation hubs and financial service networks,” says the New York Times. On Wednesday, the Office of Management and Budget had said that it recommended a presidential veto on CISPA.

The White House has argued that the government should set “minimum cybersecurity performance standards” but that CISPA could undermine “fundamental privacy, confidentiality, civil liberties and consumer protections.” House Speaker John A. Boehner countered that “The White House believes the government ought to control the Internet, government ought to set standards and government ought to take care of everything that’s needed for cybersecurity.”

While support for CISPA was initially not split along partisan lines, CNET points out that it has “gradually moved in that direction.” Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and once a web entrepreneur, told CNET that CISPA would give the military and the National Security Administration the “right to spy on Americans on American soil” by in effect waiving “every single privacy law ever enacted in the name of cybersecurity.” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and an author of CISPA, defended the bill as not at all what it was being characterized as, urging legislators to “Stand for America! Support this bill!” In the final vote, 206 Republicans voted for CISPA with 28 opposed;  in contrast, 42 Democrats voted for CISPA and 140 were opposed.

Are the Concerns About CISPA Justified?

Writing in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf says that opposition to CISPA is not paranoid, but highly justified because the bill lacks sufficient safeguards to protect citizens from what could turn into government surveillance. CISPA in its current incarnation is simply too general. It  adds a “cybersecurity loophole to every law on the books,” says the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez. It does not provide for any regulatory body to oversee intrusions on user’s privacy in the name of national security. 

Friedersdorf describes how the Bush administration engaged in illegal wiretapping for years, yet no NSA officials have been prosecuted under the Obama administration. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake has been “prosecuted by both the Bush and the Obama Administrations” after raising complaints about a separate warrantless surveillance project.

While acknowledging the real dangers of a cyberattack, Rep, Joe L. Barton, a Republican from Texas pointed out that “the absence of explicit privacy protections for individuals is, to me, a greater threat to democracy and liberty than the cyberthreats that face America.” CISPA wants to “strike a balance” between allowing “government access to potentially sensitive information without making citizens vulnerable to dangerous abuses.” But in trying to provide such access to information, CISPA fails to adequately protect the rights of private users.

Describing CISPA as “horrible,”  ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said in Ars Technica: “Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans’ online privacy. As we’ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back.” The ACLU pointed out that amendments would have only put the “veneer of privacy protections” on the bill and that the problem is CISPA in its current form itself.


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Angelus Silesius
Angelus Silesius4 years ago

And most americans could care less about their loss.of privacy

Frank Payne
Frank Payne4 years ago

This is BIG DADDY gone mad. There is no doubt that this is more than the thin edge of the wedge towards domination of the populace by government. The moves against the phasing out of money in favour of electronic payments, coupled with legislation like this, means the end of ALL privacy in favour of those making the laws. Individual citizen's private affairs will be totally open to whoever makes use of the powers granted under this law and people will be cowed into submission because of draconian threats made in the interests of those in control. There can never be adequate protection against this invasion of privacy, whatever the claims to the contrary. The inherent threats to freedom of thought, action and indeed, daily living, far outweigh any national threat that is postulated as evidence for its introduction. It will give the perpetrators the power and the means to influence the whole public domain, from the judiciary, through national government appointees to those representing one at local government levels. THINK ABOUT it people. This is the greatest threat to civilization that has yet risen and we ignore it at our peril. Already there is an unholy alliance between the banking fraternity, government and global business which is contributing inexorably to the domination of capital and effectively the population. There is so much regulation in place that ties people into complying with legal requirements, that there is no time left for the concept of family life and

Debbie G.
Debbie G4 years ago

Very distressing!

Paulett Simunich
Paulett Simunich4 years ago

I agree with Lin P. Looks as tho we are still pushing that rock up the hill. Appears my dialing finger will be receiving some exercise.....

Edvanir L.
Edvanir L4 years ago

206 Reps voted for this bill plus 42 democrats. Who are they? We need their names!!

Yvonne Taylor
Yvonne Taylor4 years ago

Monday is designated as Internet Blackout Day. Stay off internet unless work related in protest.

Yulan Lawson
Yulan Lawson5 years ago

Thanks for the heads up.

Faith Purdy
Faith Purdy5 years ago

i think it's obvious that 'national security' is not the goal of this bill.

Jason R.
Past Member 5 years ago

Republicans are complete whores!

Thom's blog
Could CISPA be worse than SOPA?

Microsoft is now rethinking its support for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act - better known as CISPA - which passed out of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last week. CISPA allows for the sharing of information between the government and private online companies to stop possible cyber security threats. But since the bill is overly-broad on what exactly is a "cyber security threat" - there's real concern that the bill could lead to egregious violations of online privacy.

In fact - some critics of the bill say that the consequences of CISPA could be worse than SOPA. Microsoft - which originally supported CISPA - is backing off now until lawmakers pass additional safeguards to protect online privacy. President Obama raised the same concerns over the bill when he threatened to veto it last week. The irony here is shocking.

When Progressives proposed net neutrality to prevent major Internet corporations from carving up the Internet and screwing over consumers - Republicans lined up against it calling it a government takeover of the Internet. But when it comes to giving those same corporations the power to share your personal information with the government - Republicans line up in support. Yes, Conservatives side with big corporations over working people even in cyber space.


Lin Penrose
Lin Penrose5 years ago

If CISPA would find, ban and prosecute those promoting child porn, animal porn/abuse and violence against women and the earth, I would applaud it. Otherwise, it just comes down to another weapon of human cultures and countries to use against each other to no good ends.