New, Invasive Online Surveillance Bill Rears Its Head
Just months after online activists helped defeat SOPA and PIPA, a new bill called CISPA is snaking its way through Congress.
The broad cyber-security bill, which the House passed last week and the White House has promised to veto, could give corporations and the government unprecedented access to Americans’ private online communications.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, authored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) would allow companies to share information with the federal government that could pose a cyber-security threat. It does so by authorizing companies to monitor users’ private communications, such as emails or messages sent to Facebook friends.
Activists are concerned the bill’s language is so vague that it overrides current protections provided by well-known laws such as the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. CISPA does this by declaring that any provision is effective, “notwithstanding any other law.”
Opponents of the legislation note that something as simple as encrypting your email could be seen as a “threat” and could make you a possible target.
And, under CISPA, companies could voluntarily hand over information to the government without a warrant—or any judicial oversight—as long as the information is deemed “cyber threat information.”
The Obama administration released a statement criticizing the bill, and said it would not support legislation that could “sacrifice the privacy of our citizens in the name of security.”
As the world becomes increasingly connected and social media becomes more prominent, such attempts at regulating the Internet are becoming more common. And legislators with little Internet knowledge often struggle to carefully craft laws that protect their constituents without dangerously invading their privacy.
Due to some elected officials’ poor grasp of new technologies, bills like CISPA are likely to keep cropping up. Its precursors—SOPA and PIPA—were also vague and threatened some basic Internet privacy. As a result, a slew of tech companies, legal experts, and Internet developers protested the bills.
Malcolm Lumpkins is a contributor to Pushback.org, a project of Campus Progress Action.