Protection or Privacy?

On Thursday, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, by a margin of 288-127. See a vote breakdown here.

The Senate has displayed little interest in considering this bill so far, but it’s still worth considering the pro’s and con’s of CISPA.

This cybersecurity bill is broad, allowing corporations to share customer’s private information with other firms and the government.  This is applicable even in cases where the company has a contract not to do so.  Companies would be exempt from liability should the act pass.

Proponents of the bill claim that its primary purpose is to protect infrastructure and institutions from online attacks.  They say that the bill has nothing to do with government surveillance, and that the information obtained would be usable only in cases where a cyber threat is detected.  They also make clear that the information collected will not be stored and/or used for any other purposes.

big-brother-posterOpponents of CISPA are many and are vocal, calling for a blackout today. They point to the fact that the language is broad enough that it is difficult to be certain what the information gathered will be used for.  “It is written so broadly that it allows companies to hand over large swaths of personal information to the government with no judicial oversight—effectively creating a “cybersecurity” loophole in all existing privacy laws.” (eff.org) Opponents are uncomfortable with the idea of information being used for “national security purposes” as well as concerns over a loss of cybersecurity.  These worries are amplified by the fact that companies would be authorized to hand over information directly to the NSA.

President Obama has threatened a CISPA veto, claiming that it does not do enough to protect privacy and civil liberties.  This threat is semi-assuring, but not altogether a sigh of relief. After all, Mr. Obama had threatened to veto the NDAA, which he later signed into law.  Although top intelligence officials warn that hackers are “a greater national security threat than terrorists”, the administration believes that that the legislation does not adequately address or protect privacy concerns.

Congress could have taken an important step towards calming public outrage if it had not blocked the Perlmutter provision.  Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Co.) stated, regarding his amendment, “It helps the individual protect his right to privacy and it doesn’t allow the employer to impersonate that particular employee when other people are interacting with that person across social media platforms.”  It was voted down 224-189, republican majority.

President Obama’s threat of veto may sound promising, but it is also at odds with his stance that cyber threats are a concern for his administration.  The American people are all too aware of the fact that  government is not always altruistic.   The concern may be valid but is the overreach necessary?  Our nation’s security is and should be of utmost importance to the nation.  Yet, individuals do have the expectation of privacy when using social media.  More importantly, individuals absolutely have the right to due process.

In any case where an individual is suspected of cyber threats, our constitution is very clear on how to handle it.   Obtain a warrant.

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