CISPA faces bi-partisan backlash ahead of House vote


With just days left before the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) goes before the House of Representatives for a full vote, voices on both sides of the aisle have slammed the cybersecurity legislation as a gross example of government intrusion.

Monday afternoon, a group of 18 congressional Democrats sent a letter (pdf) to CISPA’s chief co-sponsors, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), warning that the “the broadness and ambiguous language of CISPA raise serious concerns.”

The Members say their primary worries about the bill revolve around:

  • Determining what information relating to Internet activity will be shared;
  • Deciding who in the federal government — including the Intelligence Community — will access this information; and 
  • The purpose and manner in which that information will be used.

Moreover, say the Democrats, “CISPA would, for the first time, grant non-civilian Federal agencies, such as the National Security Agency, unfettered access to information about Americans’ Internet activities and allow those agencies to use that information for virtually any purpose.”

From the right, a coalition of conservative groups, which includes Competitive Enterprise Institute, TechFreedom, FreedomWorks, Americans for Limited Government, the Liberty Coalition, and American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, expressed similar concerns about the bill, asserting in their own letter (pdf) to Rogers and Ruppersberger that, despite changes to the legislation, CISPA “risks unduly expanding federal power, undermining freedom of contract, and harming U.S. competitiveness in the technology sector.”

The letter goes on to say that the broad definition of “cyber threat information” and the vast immunity given to companies that share such information with the federal government pose unacceptable problems. The groups warn that information shared under CISPA could be used for purposes other than to protect the government and private companies from cyber threats, or threats to national security, which is the stated goal of the bill. They also insist that CISPA would make it impossible for companies to assure customers that their private data would be protected.

In addition to these two groups, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, and an official from the Obama administration, also said on Monday that CISPA does not provide adequate protections to individual privacy, among other problems.

Both the Democratic Members and the conservative groups urge Rogers and Ruppersberger to amend CISPA to resolve these issues. As the Democrats note in their letter, Rogers and Ruppersberger are expected to offer a “Manager’s Amendment” to CISPA prior to its consideration by the full House. It is not yet known, however, whether the updated text will solve the problems these parties believe are currently inherent in the bill.

All of the dangers of CISPA expressed in these two letters are precisely what a wide range of civil liberties groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and the American Civil Liberties Union, have been saying since the CISPA debate began.

While the opposition to CISPA is clearly growing, so is CISPA’s list of supporters. The bill has gained backing from an increasing number of technology industry trade groups, and the number of co-sponsors has jumped from 106 at the end of March to its current total of 113.

House consideration of CISPA is scheduled to begin on Thursday, with a vote on the bill due no later than Friday afternoon.