CISPA: Who benefits from 'dangerously vague' bill?
Sara Yasin CISPA: Who benefits from 'dangerously vague' bill?
23 Apr 13

Yesterday [22 April], about 900 websites were shut down in protest against the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which was passed by the US House of Representatives last week. Hacking group Anonymous called for the “blackout” in order to stop the bill, which the group slammed as an attempt to “control and censor the internet.”

CISPA would allow tech companies and governments to exchange information related to possible cyber attacks — without legal hurdles. The bill’s sponsor, Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, dismissed the bill’s critics as “14-year-olds in their basements”, but there are some very valid concerns over CISPA’s potential to threaten digital freedom.

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) Rainey Reitman criticised the  “dangerously vague” bill, which she says allows companies to “spy on the electronic communications of millions of Internet users and pass sensitive information to the government with no form of judicial oversight.”

The bill was passed by a two-thirds majority. An amendment preventing employers from acquiring the passwords to social media accounts of employees was blocked by the House. The US Senate stopped the bill from passing last year, but the House has reintroduced it this year. The White House has also previously threatened to veto the bill.

Despite its failure last year, the bill’s discussion this time around did not focus on the privacy issues pointed out by groups like EFF or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Instead, supporters of CISPA used last week’s Boston marathon bombings to illustrate its necessity. Texas Republican Mike McCaul said that the United States needs to arm itself against “digital bombs.”

So who will benefit from CISPA’s passing? According to TechDirt, the bill will benefit big defence contractors — including Rogers’ wife, defence expert Kristi Rogers, who has been publicly writing about and supporting her husband’s efforts to strengthen cybersecurity. She currently works for lobbying group Manatt, working on “executive-level problem solving in the defence and homeland security sectors”, and previously lead Aegis LLC: a security company that has a $10 billion contract with the US State Department.

CISPA’s opponents have also been drowned by its supporters’ aggressive lobbying. Transparency watchdog Sunlight Foundation has reported that the pro-CISPA lobby has spent a whopping $605 million since 2011 to pass the bill.  In fact, companies like AT&T and Verizon have already spent millions on ensuring CISPA’s passing (interestingly, neither of these companies are participating in the Global Network Initiative’s efforts to help telecommunications companies protect freedom of expression and privacy rights).

Even though the bill has now been passed by the House, it has yet to be considered by the Senate. The White House has also warned that the bill would be vetoed as it is, citing concerns over accountability for companies that fail “to safeguard personal information adequately.”

To find out more about the concerns around CISPA, and to voice your concerns, visit the campaign’s site.