It’s Time To Unplug: The House Votes On CISPA Today


With the public’s attention focused on the tragedy in Boston, lawmakers have been quick to shuffle together the most invasive bill since the PATRIOT Act to quietly pass through the House. It is the offspring of SOPA and PIPA, and should receive just as much negative attention. CISPA, or Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act H.R. 624, gives the government the opportunity to undermine any online privacy one might have. The vote is slated for today.

CISPA is operating under the mask of cybersecurity. The idea is that it will provide private companies and the government a framework to exchange information about cyberattacks. The exchange is voluntary on behalf of the private company. If you don’t think that sounds too bad, the specifics of this bill is where it really hurts. CISPA allows sharing of personally identifying information, which means that even if the code is unrelated to a cyberattack, private companies can still share your identity and actions with the government. Once the government, namely the military and the NSA, gets that information, they can hold it and use it for up to five years. If your private information is misused, there is little to no recourse unless the action is provably “willful” or “intentional.” Bitcoin users, beware.

What makes CISPA even worse is that it strips consumers of their pre-existing contracts with these private companies. There is no responsibility to these contracts should the sharing of that information be related to a cyberattack, which is wholly under-defined in the CISPA legislation. Furthermore, it would permit companies to preemptively “hack” someone they considered to be a threat, directly violating the Fourth Amendment. In this instance, CISPA’s policy makers are sacrificing the rule of law for a slight increase in security. It’s not worth it.

There is hope, however, and from a most unexpected source.

While CISPA may pass the House of Representatives today, Obama openly declared that he will use his veto power to combat the bill. “Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable – and not granted immunity – for failing to safeguard personal information adequately,” the administration’s statement reads. “Moreover, the administration is confident that such measures can be crafted in a way that is not overly onerous or cost prohibitive on the businesses sending the information.” The statement also argued that “newly authorized information sharing for cybersecurity purposes from the private sector to the government should enter the government through a civilian agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”   

Okay, so the DHS would not be my top pick for sharing information with the government. In fact, given DHS’s long history of unsuccessful crime fighting, I would be skeptical of their efficacy, and certainly want them as far away as possible from my private information. However, if the Obama administration needs this excuse to block CISPA, sounds good to me. Veto away, sir!

Should CISPA inspire you to want to keep your online information private, I recommend calling your representative right now. Also, EFF and TechFreedom have done a lot of very good work protecting your rights online; these advocacy groups should receive more libertarian endorsement and acknowledgement. Let’s hope that CISPA does not pass. If it does, welcome Big Brother! Nothing to see here.

  • Weland

    As someone who has lived part of his life under a dictatorship, I find this highly unsettling to say the least.

    In my dreadful-place-of-origin, state surveillance was largely
    successful, but was avoidable to some degree, as long as you were smart,
    because it was almost exclusively done through intrusive means. Sure,
    there was also the eavesdropping of the neighbours, but as long as you
    were reasonably careful, it was ok. Having your phone line listened and
    mics planted in your home could be avoided by only having in-person
    conversations in public places; writing subversive materials was
    possible, as long as you took reasonable precautions (e.g. not leaving
    them home, unguarded and in an obvious place). Having your location
    tracked wasn’t really possible without being followed. In any case, it
    was pretty hard for Big Brother to keep you under a close enough
    observation without you being able to tell.

    This bill is effectively creating the basis of a purely voluntary
    surveillance network. Having your phone taped, for instance, was pretty
    expensive stuff — the state had to be careful to provide equipment,
    make sure the phone lines were undamaged and so on (it did help that the
    telephony provider was a state company, but still), and the state’s
    expense are nowadays under a fairly tight public scrutiny. This bill
    makes it far easier; not to mention the kind of bargains you can get
    with this from lobbying — we tape our subscribers with our own
    equipment, you guys help us with that deal about patents.

    Basically, the state no longer has to construct and maintain a
    surveillance infrastructure, it can use what is already deployed for
    perfectly legitimate reasons. Erich Mielke would have been thrilled to live in these days.

    Land of the free my ass…

    • That sounds like a horrific situation. Where are you from? And you’re absolutely right; CISPA makes it much cheaper for the government to spy on its people as well. What a terrible bill.

  • There’s a lot of support behind this though, Seems like they are going to just keep trying until the public is distracted enough for it to slip by unnoticed.

  • Kevin Boyd

    “Also, EFF andTechFreedom have done a lot of very good work protecting your rights online; these advocacy groups should receive more libertarian endorsement and acknowledgement.”

    EFF has always gotten a ton of support from libertarians. Tech Freedom on the other hand just started up.

    Honestly, I don’t want my online information in the hands of the overpoliticized DHS, the NSA, or the military. The only agency I would support having access is the FBI and only with a warrant.

    There also need to be much better privacy safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of private information by government officials. Which is why I want the more professional FBI handling cybercrime.