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As House Vote Nears, Opposition to “Worse than SOPA” CISPA Cyber Security Bill Intensifies

Here we go again…

Just when you thought the internet was safe from Big Brother’s prying eyes after massive public uproar resulted in the defeat of the odious Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), along comes another measure that some internet privacy advocates say is even worse.

It’s called H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). Another one of those bi-partisan Trojan horses, CISPA is an information sharing amendment to the National Security Act of 1947 that is meant to facilitate easier sharing of communications between US government agencies and corporations in an effort to bolster cyber security.

CISPA was drafted under the guise of thwarting cyber attacks. It will allow the government to share classified cyber security information with corporations, who would also be able to share internet users’ private data with the government if there is a reasonable threat.

That last part has many Americans worried. In its current form, CISPA does not specify that information shared with the government won’t end up in the hands of intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA), and there are no restrictions barring that information from being shared with such agencies.

Wired points out that there are four major problems with CISPA:

* Its definition of the information that can be shared with the government is too broad.

* It trumps existing federal or state privacy laws prohibiting information disclosure.

* It could shift control of cyber security efforts from civilian agencies to the NSA.

* It creates a backdoor wiretap program because shared information isn’t limited to cyber security; it could also be used for law enforcement or intelligence purposes.

“We have a number of concerns with something like this bill that creates sort of a vast hole in the privacy law to allow government to receive these kinds of information,” Kendall Burman of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) told RT.

CDT issued a statement warning that CISPA allows internet service providers to “funnel private communications and related information back to the government without adequate privacy protections and controls.”

“The bill does not specify which agencies ISPs could disclose customer data to, but the structure and incentives in the bill raise a very real possibility that the National Security Agency or the DOD’s Cybercommand would be the primary recipient,” the statement added.

CISPA’s sponsors, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) claim CISPA is needed to combat the growing threat of internet espionage, especially from China. They swear that their bill takes into consideration the concerns of privacy advocates and that it won’t be used to target American citizens.

“At home on your laptop, you won’t see any bit of a difference, other than you’ll have the comfort that somebody … has applied that malicious software filter on their systems so it’s not getting through to your laptop computer,”  Rep. Rogers is quoted in the Chicago Tribune. “Pretty good stuff.”

But a growing number of Americans don’t think so.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation launched a “Stop Cyber Spying Week of Action” against CISPA. Other influential voices have joined in a growing chorus of opposition to the measure, which RT called “even worse than SOPA.” #CISPA has been trending on Twitter. The Obama administration even weighed in on the issue on Tuesday when National Security Council (NSC) spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden issuing a statement warning that “information sharing provisions must include robust safeguards to preserve the privacy and civil liberties of our citizens,” or it “will not meet our nation’s urgent needs.”

Among the CISPA nay-sayers is internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee, who told the Guardian that the bill “is threatening the rights of people in America.”

“Even though the SOPA and PIPA acts were stopped by huge public outcry, it’s staggering how quickly the US government has come back with a new, different, threat to the rights of its citizens,” Berners-Lee opined.

On Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee announced it had proposed changes to CISPA in hopes of allaying the concerns of internet privacy advocates. But the ACLU cautions that these alterations are “underwhelming” and that serious privacy concerns persist.

Although a House vote on CISPA looms, it’s not too late for citizens to voice their opposition to the measure. Popular anger killed SOPA, and while CISPA hasn’t yet attracted the attention of as many Americans, media attention in recent days should go a long way toward remedying that.

“One of the lessons we learned in the reaction to SOPA and PIPA is that when Congress tries to legislate on things that are going to affect Internet users’ experience, the Internet users are going to pay attention,” CDT’s Burman told RT. But, “people are starting to notice,” she added.

An online petition against the measure has collected more than 686,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

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