US House of Representatives passes CISPA

Bad news, folks: MSNBC reports that the controversial cyber-surveillance bill CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) passed through Congress on a 248-168 vote, despite threats by the Government of a Presidential veto of the bill.

We've covered CISPA before, but here's a quick refresher: it encourages private corporations to spy on internet users and to share whatever they find with the government, in order to protect us from nebulously defined 'threats.' Pretty scary, huh? The White House prefers a Senate bill that many believe is not much better, which would put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of cybersecurity, rather than the private spying encouraged by CISPA.

Michigan representative Mike Rogers defended the bill, arguing that, “There is no government surveillance, none, not any in this bill.” Others, like fellow Michigan representative Justin Amash, disagreed and fought to push through amendments to protect a citizen's privacy. Amash proposed an amendment that would keep the surveillance from applying to library, medical, tax, and education documents, along with records of gun sales. The amendment passed unanimously.

Another amendment limited the government's ability to act on information obtained through CISPA for “cybersecurity, investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes; protection of individuals from death or serious bodily harm; protection of minors from child pornography; and the protection of national security.” It passed on a vote of 410-3.

Privacy advocates argue that these amendments don't do much to fix the inherent problems with CISPA, since none of them prevent the government (and, more troublingly, private companies) from snooping through your data – they only limit what they can do with it once they have it. Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson said that the bill would create a “'Wild West' of information sharing.”

No one, even the staunchest of privacy advocates, has any problem with countering cyber attacks from terrorists or foreign nations, and almost everyone agrees that the current systems are in dire need of revision. But without adequate protections of an individual's privacy, passing the legislation needed to counter those threats is like opening a can of worms.

Much like a recent Neowin editorial, Texas Representative Joe Barton summed things up pretty well: “Until we protect the privacy rights of our citizens, the solution is worse than the problem.”

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