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CISPA: What “Cyber Threat?”

Published on May 1, 2012 at 4:26 pm in Tech Trends.

First there was SOPA. Then there was ACTA. Now there’s new piece of legislation that’s poised to severely undermine the rights of internet users: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA.

Unlike SOPA, CISPA isn’t primarily concerned with piracy; rather it’s designed to help government agencies and businesses share “cyber threat information.” The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), and has the backing of Facebook, IBM, Verizon and AT&T, to name a few, is supposed to get rid of barriers that limit interaction in cases of security threats.

Just like SOPA, individuals and companies against CISPA are concerned less about the intention of the bill and more about the unintended consequences its vague and broad language may have on existing internet rights. For example, in the phrase “cyber threat information” what does the word “threat” mean? Could a private email, Facebook or Twitter update, or an individual’s Web browsing history be considered a threat? If these types of user behaviors are targeted then the government could bypass laws that otherwise keep companies from sharing this information.

Additionally, companies and government agencies already can share information. One example a recent ArsTechnica article highlighted is that a private company is already free to notify the FBI if it detects an attempt to hack into its network.

The bill passed through the House of Representatives Thursday with a vote of 248-168. It now moves onto the Senate.

TheNextWeb succinctly described the initiative as the following, “The government is quickly trying to amend old security acts to reflect the new realities of technology, and if the consumers aren’t paying attention, they might find themselves under new scrutiny and surveillance that undermine their civil liberties.”

The American Civil Liberties Union took a stronger tack when condemning the bill, “This broad legislation would give the government, including military spy agencies, unprecedented powers to snoop through people’s personal information – medical records, private emails, financial information – all without a warrant, proper oversight or limits.”

The Obama Administration recently joined the anti-CISPA team, and so should you.