Digital rights activists vow to fight CISPA


The cybersecurity bill, which died in April 2012, was reintroduced Feb. 14, 2013. (Eric Risberg/AP)
February 14, 2013

The next battle in the war over the Internet’s future may have launched this week in a K Street conference room.

So say privacy advocates and digital rights activists, who already are marshalling for a fight against the reintroduced legislation. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act passed the House in April 2012, but died soon after.

Proponents say the bill, which lets government and private companies share “cyber threat information,” would protect the country against compromising hacks. Opponents have called it the “cyber-spying bill” and claims it puts personal information in the government’s hands.

Those concerns torpedoed CISPA the first time around: Two days before an April 2012 House vote, the Obama administration threatened to veto the legislation over its lack of privacy safeguards.

“The sharing of information must be conducted in a manner that preserves Americans’ privacy, data confidentiality, and civil liberties and recognizes the civilian nature of cyberspace,” a White House statement read. “Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive.”

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the bill’s sponsors, have emphasized its privacy protections, including mandatory reviews and a provision that would let individuals sue the government in case of overreach. But the legislation reintroduced Wednesday is no different from the bill introduced last year — a fact that hasn’t escaped its opponents.

On Feb. 9, the digital rights group Fight for the Future launched an anti-CISPA petition warning that it “gives companies unprecedented power against YOU.” In the first three days of the petition, nearly 30,000 people signed, reflecting the outrage amassing on the Twitter hashtag #CISPA and in Reddit comment threads.

Three days later, hours before President Obama’s State of the Union address, the hacker collective Anonymous threatened to take down live streams of the address in retaliation for CISPA and similar laws. The group did not make good on the threat.

Even Occupy Wall Street joined the fight, tweeting pleas to “speak out” in what it calls “one of many future battles for privacy.”

Will any of this work? In a press conference announcing the bill, Ruppersberger appealed to opponents, insisting that CISPA “does not authorize the government to access your e-mail or read your tweets or Facebook posts.”

And if that doesn’t reassure them, opponents needn’t panic: this exact bill did, after all, fail once already.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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