Move over SOPA & PIPA: Here comes CISPA

Source: Anne Sewell

In the wake of SOPA and PIPA, there is yet another terrifying bill on the table. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (or CISPA for short) which is currently being discussed by Congress.

In Washington, Congress is discussing the best way to avert the ongoing cyberattacks and some legislators have put forward a new act which, if it passes Congress, will allow the government access to personal correspondence of any person of their choosing.

Much like the Big Brother tactics in the United Kingdom recently, this bill will likely cause an outcry of condemnation and criticism, as happened with the deceased SOPA and PIPA bills.

The title of this controversial act is H.R. 3523 and it has been dubbed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (or CISPA for short). It is feared that CISPA is far worse than SOPA and PIPA in its possible effects on the Internet.

While this paper has been created under the guise of being a necessary weapon in the U.S. war against cyberattacks, the wording of the paper is vague and broad. It is thought that the act could allow Congress to circumvent existing exemptions to online privacy laws and would allow the monitoring and censorship of any user and also stop online communications which they deem disruptive to the government or to private parties.

Critics say that CISPA would give any federal entity that claims it is threatened by online interactions the ability to take action against the “perpetrator”. Unlike the SOPA and PIPA acts which were eventually discarded after a successful online campaign, widespread recognition of what the latest proposed law will do has yet to surface to the same degree.

Kendall Burman of the Center for Democracy and Technology tells RT:

“We have a number of concerns with something like this bill that creates sort of a vast hole in the privacy law to allow government to receive these kinds of information.”

She states that the bill, as it stands, allows the U.S. government to involve itself in any online correspondence if it believes there is reason to suspect cyber crime.

As with other recent attempts at Internet censorship that have been discussed in Congress, the wording within the CISPA allows the government to interpret the law so broadly, that any online communication or interaction could then be suspect, and monitored without the knowledge of the parties concerned.

The CDT in a press release last month warned that CISPA allows Internet Service Providers to “funnel private communications and related information back to the government without adequate privacy protections and controls. The bill does not specify which agencies ISPs could disclose customer data to, but the structure and incentives in the bill raise a very real possibility that the National Security Agency or the DOD’s Cybercommand would be the primary recipient.”

CISPA has also been condemned by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online advocacy group. They say that “It effectively creates a ‘cybersecurity’’ exemption to all existing laws. There are almost no restrictions on what can be collected and how it can be used, provided a company can claim it was motivated by ‘cybersecurity purposes’.”

According to both CDT and EFF, this means some of the largest corporations in the country, including online service providers like Google, Twitter, Facebook or AT&T could, if pressured, copy confidential information from a user and send this information to the Pentagon, as long as the government believes there is a reason to suspect wrongdoing.

According to the authors of CISPA, this bill has been made “To provide for the sharing of certain cyber threat intelligence and cyber threat information between the intelligence community and cybersecurity entities.” They also state: “and for other purposes,” which is broad and rather undefined.

In the video Kendall Burman of the Center for Democracy and Technology tells RT: “Cyber security, when done right and done narrowly, could benefit everyone. But it needs to be done in an incremental way with a narrow approach, and the heavy hand that lawmakers are taking with these current bills . . . it brings real serious concerns.”

At today’s date CISPA has the support of over 100 representatives in the House, who favor the cybersecurity legislation, but do not take into account what it can do to the everyday Internet user.

While there are no major protests as yet, as happened with SOPA and PIPA, Burman feels it will only be a matter of time before concerned Americans demand to have their say in the matter.

“One of the lessons we learned in the reaction to SOPA and PIPA is that when Congress tries to legislate on things that are going to affect Internet users’ experience, the Internet users are going to pay attention,” says Burman. She adds that H.R. 3523 “Definitely could affect in a very serious way the Internet experience.”

She does add that “People are starting to notice.”

However, given the speed that this latest bill could be snuck through in Congress, anyone concerned over the future of the free Internet should be on the look out.

On a similar vein, RT has released the following video about the hypocrisy of the U.S. Government in relation to Internet freedoms: