Censorship Main Topic Privacy

CISPA Still Threatens Civil Liberties

Posted on behalf of fellow Pirate Kendra Moyer


While CISPA passed in the House of Representatives on April 18th, as of Thursday April 25, 2013, the CISPA bill was effectively stalled on the Senate floor after proving too controversial and overreaching for a privacy sensitive public.

Michelle Richardson legislative counsel for the ACLU stated of  the bill that:

“I think it’s dead for now. CISPA is too controversial, it’s too expansive, it’s just not the same sort of program contemplated by the Senate last year.”

The bill passed in the House just the previous week after many of its corporate supporters made special trips to lobby in its favor.  While the bill will remain shelved for the near future, privacy advocates remain ever vigilant of the potential of losing more freedom to an ever growing surveillance state.  The on-line activist community had outdone itself in keeping the issue at the forefront of public attention and stopping the invasive legislation   Still, the struggle for basic freedom versus overzealous security will continue to dog privacy advocates at every level of society.

CISPA Still Threatens Civil Liberties

by Kendra Moyer

CISPA, The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, was introduced on November 30, 2011 and was passed by the House of Representative on April 26, 2012.  The bill stalled in the Senate in February 2012 after wide spread opposition surfaced.   CISPA floundered in the spotlight and under the onslaught of on-line petitions.  The diligent advocacy of political activists and organizations dedicated to keeping cyber-space safe for free and open communication initially defeated the bill.  Free Internet activists forwarded reasonable speculations that like The Patriot Act, NDAA, SOPA, and PIPA, CISPA’s underlying goal was increased surveillance of all citizens which would jeopardize free speech on-line.  The bill does not specify nor offer limits as to how personal individual information might be used once in the hands of government agencies.  The inherent secrecy and intimidation factor of the legislation is another backward trend for an American public accustomed to and expectant of free speech and rapidly losing ground.

A new draft of the CISPA bill, which previously aimed to guard the rights of free enterprise, has resurfaced and been re-submitted by the original authors, Senators Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersburger (D-MD) on February 8, 2013. CISPA, should it pass, is  one of a number of new laws designed to monitor Internet activity. CISPA amends the National Security Act of 1947 due to a lack of provisions for computer based crime. The bill serves to prevent cyber-attacks against state computer infrastructure and networks and to protect on-line merchants and customers from fraudulent activity.

CISPA’s far reaching perimeters threaten to curtail the freedom of law-abiding citizens by compromising their personal data. The premise of isolating broadly defined “threat information” or anything deemed dangerous to industry, national security, or specific persons, is again sparking an outcry from privacy advocates.  CISPA would create loop-holes in privacy laws that currently protect Americans, give companies legal immunity for sharing an individual’s personal information without consent, and makes it easy for corporations to hand over personal data from customers to state security agencies. Even more troubling, the bill would add additional Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions.  Sensitive information are already exempt from FOIA so CISPA’s anti-FOIA provisions would prevent adequate oversight of the law.

“Threat information” might be defined as anything ranging from copyright infringement to money laundering activity geared towards funding vaguely termed “terrorist activity” or hiding profits from illegal activities.  Julian Assange’s Wikileaks case and subsequent legal battles and Private Bradley Manning’s prosecution both resonate when evaluating the potential risks of this Orwellian legislation.  The legislation offers no protection for legitimate whistle-blowers.

Academic and computer security researchers would be restrained in developing needed technological innovations and investigating and identifying security threats under the vague language of CISPA.   Terms like “Cyber-security purpose” and “cyber threat information”, are both broad and vague enough to result in questionable legal application depending on the circumstances.  Simply researching certain “hot” terms or phrases in a search engine might constitute “red flags” and probable cause for becoming targets of federal investigations.

Language regarding digital piracy and copyright protection was included in the original draft of CISPA and was removed due to the outspoken activist community pinpointing the bill’s redundancies.  The Stop On-line Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced in October 26, 2011 to abate digital piracy and protect copyrighted intellectual property and became very unpopular losing ground on the Senate floor in January 2012.

Regretfully, little has changed from the original version of CISPA to the latest draft.

The bill’s authors argue that CISPA, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on November 30, 2011, will protect the nation from a variety of cyber-attacks from hostile nations, identify thieves, and lone, disgruntled hackers. CISPA’s proponents envision worst case scenarios in which these hypothetical attacks might affect the nations’ banks, infrastructure, or core utility companies.

The most prevalent fear from opponents is that CISPA will widen the scope of national security agencies to conduct surveillance on the general population without warrants or probable cause.  The trend towards more aggressive and all encompassing state surveillance has both dampened and fired up some activist communities.

The EFF (Electronic Freedom Foundation) is dedicated to ensuring on-line privacy and free speech and actively opposes the CISPA bill along with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Fight for the Future, and Avaaz.org through debunking and carefully interpreting the evasive  language included in the CISPA bill.

The phrase “notwithstanding any other law,” is included in CISPA and allows companies, including Facebook , to circumvent established legislation in place to protect consumers’ private information including the Cable Communications Policy Act, the Wiretap Act, the Video Privacy Protection Act, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which all protect privacy and personal information during on-line transmissions.  Facebook remains a strong supporter of the CISPA bill, though Microsoft has withdrawn its support due to privacy concerns and strident opposition.

The voices of awakened citizens are needed to fight the threats posed within CISPA.  All citizens wary of the infringement of  government into their personal lives are encouraged to call and write their state and local representatives and demand accountability for the lack of privacy provisions outlined in the latest CISPA bill.






If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.