Brace Yourselves: CISPA Has Returned

Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), the controversial bill that was shot down by the Senate in 2012, is making a cameo in Congress this week. Is it new and improved? Not so much. Most sources are confused about the exact number of changes that lawmakers will see when the bill is re-introduced on Wednesday. Some claim that the document will remain the same word for word while other, more optimistic sources believe the House Intelligence Committee and the White House are working together to create a better version of the proposal.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), are the main players behind this bill. They believe CISPA is bipartisan legislation that should fly through Congress and easily get approval from the White House.

Rogers-and-RuppersbergerRogers, left and Ruppersberger, right (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters)

But what is CISPA? In short, CISPA lets companies turn over personal information to government agencies for various uses. If that sounds a little vague, it’s because it is. The overly broad and all-encompassing word choice used in this bill is one of the main criticisms brought up by opponents.

In the 2012 bill, companies would relinquish private user information to the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Defense and in turn would no longer be held accountable if they “recklessly mishandle information.”  Exactly what private information was collected and what it could be used for was never specified, which was one of the causes that led to its demise. One of the other issues that sent CISPA back to the drawing board was the clause that stated this law can play the trump card over all other privacy laws.

Opponents of the bill include the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation among other civil rights groups. Their argument against CISPA is that the resources allocated to the NSA and Department of Defense would be used against Americans. CISPA would turn the telescope off of other countries and into our backyard. They also disapprove of the lack of clarity in the bill about what qualifies as collectable data. The ACLU even provides a comparison between CISPA and two other cybersecurity bills, one proposed by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and one by Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

cispacatvia ACLU

Proponents of CISPA in 2012 included several heavyweights in the tech industry including Facebook, Microsoft and ATT&T. CISPA is the government’s way to stop hackers from tearing into their systems. They view cybersecurity provided by the NSA and Department of Defense to thwart hackers in the same light that we view military provided by the government to prevent terrorist attacks. It all comes down to drawing the line between too much and too little government involvement and protection.

Last year this bill made its way to the house before it was shot down by the Senate. Had it passed in the Senate, the White House planned to veto it. If CISPA plans to get farther this time around, it will either have to make some changes or change the minds of several politicians. Keep an eye on the headlines this Wednesday, CISPA is back in town.

About the author

Amanda Dodge