CISPA battle heats up, as both sides fight to control the message


The Cyber Sharing Intelligence and Protection Act (CISPA) is going to pass the House, and pass easily, unless those who oppose this bill can gain control of the conversation in the next few days. And the supporters of CISPA in Congress are doing everything they can to make sure that does not happen.

CISPA opponents push back

On Monday, a deep coalition of Internet and civil liberty advocacy groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), Reporters Without Borders, Fight for the Future, and others, launched the “Stop Cyber Spying” campaign, which seeks to spread the word about the dangers of CISPA, and ultimately kill the bill.

According to these groups, CISPA poses a grave threat to individual privacy by allowing companies to share private information with the government without judicial oversight or any consequence for mistreating private data. They also warn that the National Security Agency (NSA), a military organization with little public oversight, would potentially have access to the information.

The anti-CISPA campaign urges concerned citizens to contact their representatives, through Twitter, or any other means possible. The groups have set up resource pages, and systems for easily contacting representatives. They have created a hashtag (#CongressTMI — as in “too much information”) to help coalesce the conversation. They are reaching out to the press to spread the word even further, and urging other CISPA opponents to extend the anti-CISPA message however they can.

Since the anti-CISPA campaign launched early Monday morning, some of those in favor of the bill have already begun to respond. The Business Software Alliance (BSA), a pro-CISPA trade organization that represents a wide variety of technology companies including Intel and Microsoft (both of which have also voiced explicit support for CISPA), met with the CDT late Monday, in an attempt to find common ground on the bill. While neither side wavered on their position, the BSA did say that the bill “could benefit from sharpening.”

Pro-CISPA camp moves ahead

The campaign has already managed to make a ripple in the conversation — but it needs to make a tsunami. Unfortunately for CISPA opponents, the signs of such a monumental shift happening are currently nonexistent. For example, Reddit, a community that is both informed about CISPA and ready to jump at any chance to voice its righteous indignation, has responded to the campaign with a resounding “meh.” And while many people are making use of the #CongressTMI hashtag, not a single company or representative has wavered in their support for the bill.

At the same time, Rep. Mike Rogers (D-MI), chief sponsor of CISPA, is taking the CISPA opposition very seriously — something supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) failed to do, until it was too late. Since the anti-CISPA faction began to gain steam a few weeks ago, Rogers and company have done everything in their power to get ahead of the wave. They reached out to critical press (your author included) to try to explain away concerns with the bill. They launched a House Intelligence Committee Twitter feed to help promote the bill. And they have made every attempt to appear reasonable, going so far as to make (or consider) changes to the bill (PDF) in an attempt to appease critics. They also have enjoyed the reiterated support from companies like Facebook and Intel, both of which have released statements in support of CISPA this week.

CISPA supporters say the legislation provides necessary changes to the current rules and regulations to allow for greater sharing of “cyber threat intelligence” between the government and the private sector as a way to combat cyber threats and threats to national security. They argue that the legislation is needed to protect both individuals and business from malicious actors, who seek to steal private information, as well as trade secrets and valuable research and development information. Unlike SOPA, CISPA enjoys vast support from all sectors of the business community, including many of the nation’s leading technology companies. CISPA also has the support of 106 Members of the House — more than twice the number SOPA ever had.

What happens next

Over the next few days, both sides of the CISPA debate will do everything in their power to control the conversation. Rep. Rogers has indicated that he plans to counterattack any serious criticism that arises. And the anti-CISPA campaign will continue to spread the word as quickly as it can. As it stands now, however, it does not look like CISPA can be stopped, at least not before the full House votes on the bill. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) today formally filed CISPA, a necessary step before proceedings can take place on the House floor, which is expected to happen next week.

In other words: If the CISPA opposition wants to win this fight, they have precious little time to do so.