CISPA, the controversial legislation that would create an information exchange for private corporations (big business) and government spy agencies, is headed to the House floor for a vote this Friday.
H.R.3523 “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act,” CISPA’s more formal name, drafted by the GOP Rep. Michael Rogers (MI), enjoys the support of 112 co-sponsors and a number of businesses such as Facebook, Microsoft and IBM, but has incurred the wrath of EFF, the ACLU, the Free Market Coalition and even the Republican Liberty Caucus. Even Ron Paul has publicly come out against the bill, calling it “big brother writ large.”
As I noted in a recent editorial on CISPA, the bill is a classic example of over-legislation. If private entities feel that they should share intel about cyber-attacks with one another and the government, then it is their perorogative to do so; just don’t offer up private user data in the process. And if the government wants to offer its expertise in fighting cyber-attacks, simply instruct Facebook and Microsoft—no need for the bill providing security clearances. That said, it does seem rather absurd to think that companies like Facebook aren’t technologically equipped to fight hackers on their own.
As CNET’s Declan McCullagh notes, all of this ire erupted over a particular word and phrase—”notwithstanding any other provision of law,” private entities may share information “with any other entity, including the federal government.”
By including the word “notwithstanding,” CISPA’s drafters intended to make their legislation trump all existing federal and state civil and criminal laws. It would render irrelevant wiretap laws, Web companies’ privacy policies, educational record laws, medical privacy laws, and more. (It’s so broad that the non-partisan Congressional Research Service once warned (PDF) that using the term in legislation may “have unforeseen consequences for both existing and future laws.”)
While opponents from EFF to Anonymous have been successful in whipping up awareness of and opposition to CISPA, there hasn’t been a flight of co-sponsors, as there was with SOPA and PIPA. That said, anything is possible in the next few days, especially with Representatives like Zoe Lofgren and John Conyers, who were part of 18 House Democrats who penned a letter to Congress expressing their opposition to the bill.
In the letter, they raise legitimate questions, such as what information and with whom (in the government) it will be shared, as well as how it will be used.
Proposed amendments to the bill face a 4:30pm deadline today and could help defang CISPA.