In a move that took the opponents of the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) by surprise, the US House of Representatives has voted on the bill a full day before it was planned and has passed it with a vote of 248-168.
CISPA is touted by its proponents and supporters as the right tool for helping the government and its agencies fight against cyber attackers, and would allow easier sharing of information between the government and private companies.
Unlike SOPA, CISPA is supported by big tech and Internet companies such as Microsoft, AT&T, Facebook, and others.
In fact, it would allow companies such as broadband providers to share customer information and communication with government agencies without fear of getting sued.
Opponents to the bill, among which are the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say that CISPA would effectively kill online privacy.
The bill’s opponents received another nasty surprise when they discovered that among the several amendments to the bill that were also passed, there is one that broadens the definition of what the government agencies can use the shared information for.
The initial proposition said that the shared information could be used for assuring cybersecurity and national security. The amendment added three more authorizations: for protecting individuals from the danger of death or physical injury; protecting minors from physical or psychological harm; and the investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes.
“Basically this means CISPA can no longer be called a cybersecurity bill at all. The government would be able to search information it collects under CISPA for the purposes of investigating American citizens with complete immunity from all privacy protections as long as they can claim someone committed a ‘cybersecurity crime’,” comments Leigh Beadon.
“Basically it says the 4th Amendment does not apply online, at all. Moreover, the government could do whatever it wants with the data as long as it can claim that someone was in danger of bodily harm, or that children were somehow threatened—again, notwithstanding absolutely any other law that would normally limit the government’s power.”
After having received the go from the House of Representatives, CISPA still needs to be approved by the US Senate and by the White House.
Advisers to the US President have already made public the fact that they advised him to veto the bill if it passes through Congress – although that doesn’t guarantee anything.