CISPA: the death of personal privacy

by fmhilton

No, this is not an overstatement. It is not grandstanding nor overblown verbiage.

This bill has cleared the House of Representatives with some new amendments, none of which are any less terrible than the original language-by a vote of 248 to 168, this past week.

It’s still a hugely bad, terrible bill.

It would allow for every single ISP to share your information with the government-plus with the added bonus of Facebook, Google, and every single major social media site being able to give your information to the government without any warrant or for any reason except that they’re asked to.

They all support it. CNET

One of the biggest differences between CISPA and its Stop Online Piracy Act predecessor is that the Web blocking bill was defeated by a broad alliance of Internet companies and millions of peeved users. Not CISPA: the House Intelligence committee proudly lists letters of support from Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec, Verizon, AT&T, Intel, and trade association CTIA, which counts representatives of T-Mobile, Sybase, Nokia, and Qualcomm as board members.

So is this worse than SOPA? Oh, lord, how much!

For all its flaws, SOPA targeted primarily overseas Web sites, not domestic ones. It would have allowed the U.S. attorney general to seek a court order against the targeted offshore Web site that would, in turn, be served on Internet providers in an effort to make the target virtually disappear.

It was kind of an Internet death penalty targeting Web sites like, not sites like, which are already subject to U.S. law.

CISPA, by contrast, would allow Americans’ personal information to be vacuumed up by government agencies for cybersecurity and law enforcement purposes, as long as Internet and telecommunications companies agreed. In that respect, at least, its impact is broader.

How can that happen? Aren’t there some protections against this?
In a word, no:

Q: Would CISPA allow companies to violate their terms of service by turning over information to the Feds without a search warrant?


Though to be clear: if you trust your Internet provider, e-mail provider, and so on, to protect your privacy, CISPA should not be a worrisome bill. The U.S. government can’t force companies to open their databases and networks; federal agencies can only request it. But as the warrantless wiretapping debate shows, the private sector may acquiesce.

One reason CISPA would be useful for government eavesdroppers is that, under existing federal law, any person or company who helps someone “intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication”–unless specifically authorized by law–could face criminal charges. CISPA would trump all other laws.

Why is this so awful? Because there is one word that was added to the bill in the latest version: “Notwithstanding”. That changes the entire scope of the language, the bill and the territory:

“Notwithstanding” would trump wiretap laws, Web companies’ privacy policies, gun laws, educational record laws, census data, medical records, and other statutes that protect information, warns the ACLU’s Richardson: “For cybersecurity purposes, all of those entities can turn over that information to the federal government.

CISPA’s authorization for information sharing extends far beyond Web companies and social networks. It would also apply to Internet service providers, including ones that already have an intimate relationship with Washington officialdom.

Large companies including AT&T and Verizon handed billions of customer records to the NSA; only Qwest refused to participate. Verizon turned over customer data to the FBI without court orders.

An AT&T whistleblower accused the company of illegally opening its network to the NSA, a practice that the U.S. Congress retroactively made legal in 2008.

So what to do about this newest and latest threat to your privacy?

Contact your Senator-immediately. This bill is set to be introduced into the Senate within a few weeks.

The EFF has this page where you can Twitter your Representatives.

Avaaz has a petition against this.

We defeated SOPA, and we can stop this. Let’s tell our elected representatives that this is unacceptable and we will not allow it to pass!

Stand up for your rights as an American citizen!