Terms & Conditions: Congress has privacy policies in its sights with CISPA

Terms and Conditions CISPA

The purpose of Terms & Conditions is to parse through the terms of service and privacy polices of online sites or services. We at Digital Trends think this is important because these documents are legal contracts by which users and the company must abide. Privacy policies in particular tell us how our personal information will be collected and used by the company in question, providing us with protection in case the company violates its own rules. But thanks to a bill currently making its way through Congress, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2013 (CISPA), the legal weight of all privacy polices may soon dwindle faster than a liposuction patient. So, for this week’s T&C, we’ll cut through the legal jargon of CISPA to see what the bill may mean for the future of online privacy rights.

CISPA, in short

CISPA is a cybersecurity bill that would allow for greater sharing of “cyber threat information” (CTI) between the federal government and businesses. Companies (like Facebook, Google, or Digital Trends) would be free to share CTI with the government, but would not be required to do so. The bill would also allow the federal government to more easily share classified information with businesses.

CISPA was originally introduced in 2012. The bill passed the House of Representatives the first time around, but failed to pass the Senate. Co-sponsors of the bill, Reps Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), reintroduced the bill in February. CISPA passed the House on Thursday with a vote of 288 to 127.

The anti-CISPA position

Despite its seeming popularity in the House, CISPA remains enemy number one for civil liberty and Internet freedom advocates, who argue that the bill is too broadly written, allowing the government – especially secretive military sectors, like the National Security Agency (NSA) – to get their mitts on citizens’ personal information. 

“CISPA’s information sharing regime allows the transfer of vast amounts of data, including sensitive information like Internet records of the contents of emails, to any agency in the government including the military and intelligence agencies like the National Security Administration or the Department of Cyber Command,” wrote a coalition of citizen rights groups in a letter (PDF) to Congress opposing CISPA last month. “Once in government hands, this information can be used for undefined ‘national security’ purposes unrelated to cyber security.”

At the heart of the CISPA opposition is a provision that allows companies to share CTI with “any other entity, including the federal government” with complete impunity – “not withstanding any other provision of law” – which means that companies that share CTI may not be sued or convicted of criminal wrongdoing, no matter what any other law or their own privacy policies say. This is the reason CISPA is problematic.

The pro-CISPA position

Champions of CISPA say the bill is necessary to protect U.S. critical infrastructure networks – things like electrical and water supply systems – from being attacked through computer network. Furthmore, CISPA supporters firmly reject the idea that the bill would hurt individual privacy or Internet freedom. 

“The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act allows us to take that first critical step of sharing information in a way that is effective but still protects our civil liberties,” wrote Rep. Rogers in a US News & World Report op-ed on Wednesday. “… Most importantly, under the bill, information sharing by the private sector is voluntary, with strong controls to ensure that personal information is protected. It allows only information directly pertaining to threats or vulnerabilities to be shared for the explicit purpose of protecting systems and networks from such threats, and it allows those in the private sector to minimize or anonymize the information shared based on their own determination of what is minimally necessary to address those threats.” 

In addition to its support in Congress, CISPA enjoys backing from major U.S. telecommunications providers, including AT&T and Verizon, as well as that of lobbying organizations that represent companies like Google and Amazon. 

What happens next with CISPA?

CISPA will now move to the Senate for debate. Like last year’s movement over CISPA, however, the bill faces an increasingly steep uphill battle. The most powerful CISPA opponent is President Barack Obama who issued a veto threat (PDF) on the basis that it “fails to provide authorities to ensure that the nation’s core critical infrastructure is protected while repealing important provisions” of privacy law. 

In addition, Internet freedom group Fight for the Future has launched a campaign to get Rep. Rogers, who recently characterized CISPA opponents as a “14-year-old tweeter in the basement,” to debate an actual 14-year-old over the merits of the legislation.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

Budget TVs are finally worth buying, and you can thank Roku

Not all that long ago, budget TVs were only worth looking at if, well, you were on a budget. Thanks to Roku, not only are budget TVs now a viable option for anyone, but they might even be a better buy than more expensive TVs.
Computing

Windows 10 user activity logs are sent to Microsoft despite users opting out

Windows 10 Privacy settings may not be enough to stop PCs from releasing user activity data to Microsoft. Users discovered that opting out of having their data sent to Microsoft does little to prevent it from being released.
Web

Encryption-busting law passed in Australia may have global privacy implications

Controversial laws have been passed in Australia which oblige tech companies to allow the police to access encrypted messages, undermining the privacy of encryption with potentially global effects.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Computing

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.
Mobile

Smartphone makers are vomiting a torrent of new phones, and we’re sick of it

Smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, LG, Sony, and Motorola are releasing far too many similar phones. The update cycle has accelerated, but more choice is not always a good thing.
Home Theater

The Apple AirPods 2 needed to come out today. Here are four reasons why

Apple announced numerous new products at its October 30 event, a lineup that included a new iPad Pro, a MacBook Air, as well as a new Mac Mini. Here are four reasons we wish a new set of AirPods were on that list.
Opinion

Do we even need 5G at all?

Faster phones, easier access to on-demand video, simpler networking -- on the surface, 5G sounds like a dream. So why is it more of a nightmare?
Computing

Razer’s most basic Blade 15 is the one most gamers should buy

Razer's Blade 15 is an awesome laptop for both gamers, streamers, professionals, and anyone else needing serious go in a slim profile, but its price is out of reach for many games. The new Blade 15 Base solves that problem with few…
Gaming

Going to hell, again. The Switch makes 'Diablo 3' feel brand-new

I've played every version of Diablo 3 released since 2012, racking up hundreds of hours in the process. Six years later, I'm playing it yet again on Nintendo Switch. Somehow, it still feels fresh.
Gaming

‘Fallout 76’ may have online multiplayer but it’s still a desolate wasteland

"Is Fallout 76 an MMO?" That depends on who you ask. Critics and players often cite its online multiplayer capabilities as a reason it qualifies. Yet calling the game an MMO only confuses matters, and takes away from what could make…
Digital Trends Live

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates the entire output from a factory.
Opinion

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?
Gaming

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.