CISPA schedule: Debate begins Thursday, vote by Friday afternoon


As I noted on Friday, the clock’s a tickin’ on the contentious Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). But reading over all the latest news and social media posts, I realized there is quite a bit of confusion about what happens next with the bill, and when. So here’s the official word on so-called “Cyber Week” in the House, straight from Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s schedule.

The House will begin debate on CISPA (H.R. 3523) on Thursday, April 26, some time after 12pm ET. CISPA is the last piece of legislation on the House agenda for Thursday, with the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2011 (pdf) — another cybersecurity bill, which seeks to “advance research, development, and technical standards,” according to the official description — at the top of the day’s debates. (See the full House legislative agenda at the bottom of this post.)

It’s possible that the House will vote on CISPA Thursday night. If not, Members will resume debate on CISPA at 9am ET Friday morning, with a vote deadline of 3pm ET Friday. In other words: CISPA’s fate in the House will be decided by no later than Friday afternoon.

For those of you just coming into the CISPA controversy: CISPA is a piece of legislation that seeks to allow for greater sharing of information between the federal government and the private sector. Supporters of the bill (it currently has 113 co-sponsors in the House) say the legislation is needed to protect U.S. entities against cyber attacks. CISPA opponents warn that the bill’s broad language could allow the government to spy on private citizens without proper oversight or recourse for abuses.

While many have compared CISPA to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the two bills have almost nothing in common. Not only are the stated goals of these two piece of legislation entirely different (CISPA is about cybersecurity; SOPA was about copyright infringement), CISPA enjoys broad support from the technology industry, including companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, and many others.

With just days left before CISPA takes the House floor, the opposition movement has finally picked up real steam. A petition on online activism portal Avaaz has racked up more than 100,000 additional signatures so far today, bringing its total up to about 720,000, at the time of this writing. The goal is to reach 1 million signatures before the House vote; it will probably reach that goal by the end of today.

This afternoon, 18 Democrats in the House signed a letter (pdf) condemning CISPA’s lack of privacy protections. And Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul came out swinging against the bill earlier today, calling the bill “the latest assault on Internet freedom.”

“We should never underestimate the federal government’s insatiable desire to control the Internet,” said Paul in a statement on his website. “…CISPA is essentially an Internet monitoring bill that permits both the federal government and private companies to view your private online communications with no judicial oversight — provided, of course, that they do so in the name of ‘cybersecurity.'”

The White House has also given added support to the anti-CISPA movement, with an anonymous Obama administration official telling The Hill that, without additional privacy protections, “the companies that run the Internet would no longer be accountable to the laws that protect privacy,” and could possibly “disclose very broadly, private sensitive information to the government.”

If you’ve been following this debate, you already know that both these statements perfectly echo the warnings that civil liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) have been saying for weeks or months about CISPA.

Aside from misinformation about when CISPA will actually go before the House, there’s quite a bit of confusion about the text of the bill itself. Here is a link (pdf) to the current text of CISPA. Any other versions are outdated, and should not be referenced.

A couple other things to keep in mind: First, Members may submit additional amendments to CISPA up until Tuesday evening (at least, that’s what we hear). If any amendments are approved, CISPA will change yet again. And even if the House passes CISPA as-is, the bill then moves onto the Senate, where it could face further changes and greater opposition.

If you have any other questions about CISPA, I recommend checking out the CDT’s CISPA resource page. Or you can shoot me a note on Twitter (@andrewcouts), and I’ll do my best to find you a good answer.

House legislative agenda: April 23-27, 2012

Updated with letter from congressional Democrats