First, there were ACTA, then PIPA, then SOPA, now there’s CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act, the worst of all.
Though it has not met yet blasts of criticism as the first three cyberspying acts, US lawmakers have already come up with another authoritarian bill that would give them carte blanche to spy on the web in the name of cybersecurity. Like a bad rash, these bills keep coming back, only worse and more irritating than the preceding and nixed ones.
H.R. 3523, a piece of legislation with the title Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act, has a very unholy downside. It’s been crafted under the ruse of being a necessary tool in our eternal war against cyber attacks. But the fuzzy verbiage packed within the pages of the law could give Congress the clout to dance around existing exemptions to online privacy laws and basically monitor, censor and stop any online communication that it believes to be disruptive to the government or private parties.
Critics have already jumped on CISPA for the power it seemingly will give to any federal entity that claims it is threatened by online interactions, but unlike the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP ACTS that were tossed on the Capital Building floor after very successful online campaigns to defeat them, widespread knowledge of what this latest brainchild “law” will do has not reared its ugly head yet, at least not to the same degree.
But Kendall Burman of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) told Russia Today (RT.com) that Congress is currently looking at a slew of bills that could eventually become law, but for the persistence of the groups that openly advocate an open Internet. It’s amazing how eager Congress and the NSA are to spy in any way possible on the American people. We are the new enemy, it seems. Burman warns that provisions in CISPA are real reasons to worry what the realities could turn out to be if it ends up on the desk of our ever-vigilant President Obama. So far CISPA has had its coming-out party, introduced, referred and reported by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and expects to put to a vote in the coming weeks.
Berman explains, “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,” acknowledging that the bill as written allows the government to insert itself into any online correspondence, all current exemptions included, if it believes there is reason to suspect a cybercrime. Reflecting all the other attempts at censorship that have come through the government pipeline recently, the wording within the CISPA permits the government to interpret the law in so many ways that just about any online communication or interaction could be suspect and therefore “unknowingly” monitored.
Of course, as members of Congress pretend to wrap themselves in patriotism, the rights of privacy are quickly kicked aside, and the CDT warned in a press release that CISPA allows Internet service providers to “funnel private communications and related information back to the government without adequate privacy protections and controls.” So bite by bite by bite, CISPA could prove to be the information glutton that could swallow our privacy.
For instance, “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 (NSA), or the Department of Defense (DOD)’s Cybercommand would be the primary recipient, reads the warning”—two household names we could live without.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, another online advocacy group, has also condemned CISPA for what it signifies for the Internet’s future: a perpetual listening line for the upper echelons of the spy-world. EFF said, “CISPA effectively creates a ‘cybersecurity’ exemption to all existing laws,” adding in their own statement that “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.” That statement is so open-ended you could drive a train through it.
That means an awful lot to both the EFF and CDT. Some of the biggest corporations in the country, including Google, Facebook, Twitter or AT&T, could copy confidential information and send it off to the Pentagon if they were under pressure to do so. That is, as long as the government believes they have reason to suspect something’s rotten in Denmark. In their own summation, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, tells us that “efforts to degrade, disrupt or destroy” either “a system or network of a government or private entity” are reasons to have the long arm of Washington reach in and read any online communication they wish to.
Yet the authors of CISPA, once again assuming the American people are idiots, claim the 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,” but not before mentioning that the legislation could be used “for other purposes” as well—which, imagine that, have not been defined.
Burman does tell RT that “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 [not] the heavy hand that lawmakers are taking with these current bill[s] . . . it brings real serious concerns.” It’s spying and reducing privacy in a different wrapper.
Not surprisingly, CISPA has gotten support from more than 100 representatives in the House who are favoring this cybersecurity legislation without taking into consideration what it could and will do to the Internet’s everyday user. While the backlash created by opponents of SOPA and PIPA has not materialized to the same degree yet, Burman gives Congress a cautionary warning that it could just a matter of time before concerned Americans, i.e., voters and taxpayers, step up to have their say.
Says Burman of H.R. 3523, “One of the lessons we learned in the reaction SOPA and PIPA is that when Congress tries to legislate on things that are going to affect the experience of Internet users, they are going to pay attention.” She cautions it “could definitely affect in a very serious way the Internet experience.” The good news is that “luckily, people are starting to notice.”
Given the speed with which the latest censorship bill could sneak through Congress, including the dark of night, anyone concerned over the future and freedom of the Internet should be on the lookout for CISPA, an even more odious cyber spying bill than its predecessors, especially as it wanders through the halls and offices of Capitol Hill. In CISPA’s haste to protect against cyberterror, it brings with it all the oppressive shadows of the police state.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and a life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.