Privacy-Killing CISPA Bill Passes House In The US

CISPA, a terrible bill that would let websites hand over your personal data to the government with little oversight, just passed the US House of Representatives. That's not good.

Although the vote was scheduled for tomorrow, in something of a surprise, it took place today and passed the House 248-168.

The bill is still unabashedly a violation of your privacy rights -- nearly anything you say or do online can be handed over to the government without so much as a warrant -- although the version of the bill that passed this afternoon is both better and worse than it had been in its original form. As CNET points out, one amendment was withdrawn before the proceedings that would have given the Department of Homeland Security sweeping and, more importantly, superseding authority. When it was in, CISPA would have been a DHS trump card, essentially, overruling any local or state legislation that contradicted it. That's gone.

That doesn't, though, mean that you should stop worrying about CISPA. As the EFF makes all too clear, the truly concerning parts of the bill -- the ones that give the government the right to conduct surveillance on your internet everything without your knowledge or permission -- are firmly in place.

Weighing even more heavily on the scary side of the ledger was an amendment from Rep Ben Quayle (R - AZ) that broadened those activities that would fall under government jurisdiction and surveillance. As TechDirt observes:

Previously, CISPA allowed the government to use information for "cybersecurity" or "national security" purposes. Those purposes have not been limited or removed. Instead, three more valid uses have been added: investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crime, protection of individuals, and protection of children. Cybersecurity crime is defined as any crime involving network disruption or hacking, plus any violation of the CFAA.

Quayle, who was also a co-sponsor of SOPA, effectively made it so that any suspicion of anything illegal on the internet -- not just the vague Chinese cyber warfare threats the bill had built its stature on -- is enough for the government to go through your entire online life.

What's perhaps most surprising, and in some ways most damning, about today's vote was the timing. It had been planned for tomorrow, Friday, for some time, and was pushed up just this afternoon. And concluded, conveniently, after many voters had long since stopped paying attention to the news. By tomorrow morning, it will have been washed away by a fresh news cycle and three day weekends and general Friday apathy.

That doesn't mean that CISPA is a fact of life now, though. Far from it. The majority Democratic Senate has yet to vote, and even if it manages to pass both legislative bodies, President Obama has already promised a veto.

Unlike SOPA, against which much of the tech community rallied, most internet heavyweights have expressed their support for CISPA. Some notables include:

AT&T Boeing CTIA - The Wireless Association Cyber, Space & Intelligence Association Facebook IBM Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance Information Technology Industry Council Intel Internet Security Alliance Lockheed Martin Microsoft National Cable & Telecommunications Association Oracle Symantec TechAmerica US Telecom - The Broadband Association Verizon

And that's far from the complete list.

Comparisons between SOPA and CISPA have been cropping up, and they're inevitable because they're both an uncomfortable and disquieting intersection of government and internet. But the two bills are also different in crucial ways. Where SOPA aimed to prosecute, CISPA will spy. Where citizens rallied against SOPA in final days before voting, CISPA has remained largely off the radar. Where tech giants stood up against SOPA, they've lined up to join the CISPA caravan.

Where does that leave us? One step closer to an online police state that borders on the dystopian. And that's not hyperbole; that just what happens when people who both fundamentally and wilfully misunderstand the nature of the interent try to regulate it. Your entire life is online. And unless the US Senate takes a stand, or Obama follows through on his veto promise, it'll soon be an open book to the US government.

What is CISPA?

CISPA is a proposed national "cyber security law" bouncing around the US Congress...

The intent of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, introduced by US Representative Michael Rogers (R-MI), is to protect America's internet interests (both governmental and our precious YouTubes) against attacks. It's technically an amendment to the National Security Act of 1947, but would have sweeping 21st century consequences. Rogers cites China as a main threat -- conventional wisdom does say they're constantly trying to breach American networks, along with Russia and Iran -- but this goes way beyond Cold War hack paranoia, and into your laptop.

...that would let websites you use hand over your personal data and read your email...

The scariest part of CISPA is how astonishingly broad and loose it is, like some sort of giant, poorly built rope bridge. Over a volcano. CISPA would permit any private company (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Google, you name it) to give away any and all data it's collected on you when asked by a government agency. Literally any government agency. This data would then head to the Department of Homeland Security.

...based on very vague terms...

CISPA says companies need to give up your information only in the face of a "cyber threat". So, what is a "cyber threat"? Nobody really knows! The bill defines it as "efforts to degrade, disrupt or destroy government or private systems and networks". In other words, trying to do bad stuff on the internet, or even just talking about it. Ideally, this would be narrowed to specific malicious LulzSec stuff like DDoS attacks, but it's not. It can be almost anything!

...with very little oversight...

Would Facebook need to be given a warrant or subpoena before spilling your data to the feds? Nope! Would you ever be informed that you data had been released? Nope! What if you think the government has accessed your personal stuff without cause? Too bad! They're 100 per cent immune, as long as the groups involved acted in "good faith", which legally means pretty much zilch. All previous laws that protected your privacy against government eavesdropping, like the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, would be overridden.

...and some powerful backers...

Facebook, Google and Microsoft all support CISPA. Why? Because they don't want to get hacked, and they think this will keep them safe(r). Are they right in this? Maybe, but they're also ignoring the government can look at anything they want whenever they want however they want aspect of the bill.

...and one very, very powerful critic. The President Of The United States.

The White House is having none of this CISPA nonsense:

Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, information sharing, while an essential component of comprehensive legislation, is not alone enough to protect the Nation's core critical infrastructure from cyber threats. Accordingly, the Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, in its current form.

President Obama says he'll veto the bill if it lands on his desk.

But! Lets try to make sure it doesn't get that far: For any US residents who might be reading this (given that a bill that affects companies that operate out of the US but service Australia logically affects Australia as well) the EFF has an easy tool to find representatives so you can tell him and/or her that you don't want to be sold out by Facebook and spied on by the government.



    when you say something online, it's public. Why would they need a warrant for something that isn't in your home?

      Because when I "private message" someone on Facebook, I might want it to actually be Private.
      It's no different than tapping someone's mobile phone. Just because it's not in your house doesn't mean you don't need a warrant.

        " “private message” someone on Facebook, "
        There's your problem.
        No such thing as Private on Facebook.
        No such thing as Internet Privacy. Never has been. Only people who *think* there's such a thing.

      I agree. Sounds like the only people who are running scared are the ones who have something to hide. If you're going to private message someone on facebook, does it really matter if the Government see it? It's not like they are going to divulge your adultery or whatever other thing you have to hide to your spouse. It sounds like it's aimed at criminals more than anything else.

    So let me get this right... they just made it legal to snoop around on your PC via the net where before it was a bit shady to do that..? And here Australia is right up their arses... Fuck!!

      And of course for all the skype users out there, you can take comfort in knowing that Microsoft is writing a backdoor for Skype to allow ease of access for the United States Government to snoop skype conversations. What a wonderful world we live in today.

        that is really dodgy, i know some ppl who talk via skype for business reasons... i doubt they want business talk OR personal talk to go to the usa... wtf is happening to the internet L :/

          Severe amounts of retarded people with authority. That is what is happening to the internet. Sadly.

      I think they snoop around websites you visit, not your computer. Unless i got it wrong?

    We know since a long time the Internet not to forget anything and that you have no control who will use what you have communicated. Keep that in mind ALL the time and you are fine.

    Fascism and capitalism at its best. America, Democracy and the country of the free. Yeah right.

    america is the new china and given australia needs their hand held in everything it won't be long

    Years ago a friend of mine insisted that all email conversation with them be encrypted. I thought that they were one of the tin-foil hat brigade now I see that that they are visionary.

    Lists of known associates has long been the bread and butter of organisations like asio. Now facebook can give them that information via us government

    I have to laugh at this -- it's getting so obvious now with the whole "will someone *please* think of the children!" thing:

    " of individuals, and protection of children."

    You know... just in case individuals didn't include children...

    Welcome to the new world order comrades, get ready for one world government !
    Start practising your Zieg Heil's people.

    Bet the new rules don't apply to corrupt Politicians and Governments, wonder why ?
    Seeing how Govt's have totally lost the plot why don't we just abolish governments and let average honest people run things instead and actually make things better for all.

    If you think the internet is safe not, THINK AGAIN. Because of this recently passed bill, we as Americans cannot express whatever is on our minds or can't secretly e-mail between to parties without intervention from government or other athority. Is that fair to us Americans, NO. It's like the local authorities entering your house whenever they please without your knowledge and unlawfully arrest us without a just cause.

    What the hell sort of data are people keeping online anyway that they're so terrified of law enforcement agencies finding out about.?
    Must be lots and lots of people with something to hide and no idea that the Internet is NOT the place to hide it.

      It's not about having something to hide. It's about your right to privacy. How would you like it if someone broke into your house when you weren't home, but they didn't steal or damage anything? No damage done, but wouldn't you feel like you've been violated? Same basic principal.

      The government will slowly take our rights little by little. People like you won't think much about it while it's happening, because it seems like such a small thing here and there. But it all adds up, and some day, you'll realize you've got no privacy, no rights, no protection, and no way to fight back because they are holding all the cards. If you don't believe me, just google the Patriot Act. It gives the government some interesting powers and could potentially leave ANYONE vulerable to being labeled and treated as a terrorist without evidence. So a government official could say they "suspect" you of being a terrorist, invade your home, take everything you own, and throw your ass in prison just because you had sex with their daughter and knocked her up or whatever. They intentionally design these bills so that they are vague in ways that will not put limitations on their power or the way that it is used.

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