Cispa will give US unprecedented access, internet privacy advocates warn
With echoes of Sopa, critics charge that bill will overturn US privacy protections in government attempts to track hackers
Washington looks set to wave through new cybersecurity legislation next week that opponents fear will wipe out decades of privacy protections at a stroke.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa) will be discussed in the House of Representatives next week and already has the support of 100 House members.
It will be the first such bill to go to a vote since the collapse of the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in January after global protests and a concerted campaign by internet giants such as Google, Wikipedia and Twitter.
The author of the new bill, Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House intelligence committee, has said it is aimed at tracking the nefarious activities of hackers, terrorists and foreign states, especially China. But its critics charge the bill will affect ordinary citizens and overturn the privacy protections they now enjoy.
Opponents fear the way it is currently drafted will open up ordinary citizens to unprecedented scrutiny. The bill uses the wording: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law,” a phrase that if it became law would trump all existing legislation, according to critics.
In one section, the bill defines “efforts to degrade, disrupt or destroy” a network as an area that would trigger a Cispa investigation. Opponents argue something as simple as downloading a large file – a movie for example – could potentially be defined as an effort to “degrade” a network.
The bill also exempts companies from any liability for handing over private information.
“As it stands the bill allows companies to turn over private information to the government and for them to use it for any purpose that they see fit, all without a warrant,” said Michelle Richardson, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “For 40 years we have had legislation about wiretapping that protects people. This would overturn that and make a cyber exception.”
Privacy advocates are especially concerned about what they see as the overly broad language of the bill. As people increasingly use services like Skype and other internet telephony services, Twitter and Facebook to communicate, advocates fear the bill is a land grab that would give US authorities unprecedented access to private information while removing a citizen’s legal protection.
Pictured: Wikipedia joined other major sites in going dark on 18 January to protest Sopa, but so far internet giants such as Wikipedia and Google have remained silent on Cispa. Photograph: Rex Features