Human Rights

House Passes Privacy-Killing Cybersecurity Bill, Despite White House Veto Threat

CISPA would grant immunity to businesses that share Internet users' private information.


A bill that grants businesses immunity for sharing Internet users’ private information with the federal government passed through the House Thursday, despite an outcry from privacy advocates and a veto threat from the White House, the Hill reports.

Businesses and congressional advocates say CISPA will help the government defend companies and infrastructure from hackers across the globe, especially China and Russia. But the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Obama administration all say the legislation doesn’t go far enough to protect citizens’ private information from the U.S. Military. The bill does not require businesses to extract sensitive information, such as health or credit card records, when they share citizens’ data with the government. The White House issued a veto threat Tuesday relaying its concern:

We have long said that information sharing improvements are essential to effective legislation, but they must include proper privacy and civil liberties protections, reinforce the appropriate roles of civilian and intelligence agencies, and include targeted liability protections … CISPA as reported still does not address these fundamental priorities adequately.

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Critics of CISPA also say the bill greatly expands federal power by allowing warrantless snooping, while granting businesses immunity to help in the process. CNET’s Declan McCullagh explains clearly how the CISPA’s language is so significant:

CISPA is controversial because it overrules all existing federal and state laws by saying "notwithstanding any other provision of law," including privacy policies and wiretap laws, companies may share cybersecurity-related information "with any other entity, including the federal government.”

In closing arguments Thursday morning, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) referenced the toil of the Boston bombing in support of CISPA, eerily echoing rhetoric used in the aftermath of 9/11 to weaken American citizens’ privacy.

“Recent events in Boston demonstrate that we have to come together as Republicans and Democrats in order to pass a bill that will strengthen national security, McCaul said. “In the case of Boston, there were real bombs. In this case, they are digital bombs — and these digital bombs are on their way.”

CISPA’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) caused controversy earlier this week when he compared critics of CISPA, which include hundreds of thousands of Internet users, prominent lawyers and the President of the United States, to a “14-year-old tweeter in your basement” (sic).

Lawmakers voted 288 to 127 in favor of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), garnering higher support for a similar bill last year that passed 248 to 168. 92 Democrats voted in favor of CISPA, whilst only 29 Republicans opposed. 

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.