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CISPA: Necessary protection or invasion of privacy?

The battle over a new bill heats up.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, is either a welcome resource in preventing cyber attacks or a troubling invasion of privacy, depending who you ask. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House Intelligence Committee and appeared to be headed for easy passage in the House.

Criticism of the bill is beginning to mount as several free speech and civil liberties groups are lining up against CISPA and encouraging their supporters to do the same by contacting their representatives in Congress, taking their concerns to Twitter, and generally being noisy about their concerns.

So what would CISPA actually do?  “The intention of CISPA is to make it easier for companies to share information about cyber threats,” says Jennifer Martinez of Politico.com. “So that companies and the intelligence community can be more proactive about combating cyber attacks or theft of trade secrets.”

So the feds have information about a potential attack on a company, they can share that with the company. Companies aren't required to share with the government but they can choose to. That’s the part that’s causing a lot of worry.  Here's what worries Kendall Burman, senior research fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology:  “The potential for your Internet service provider or other companies that you interact with to monitor and collect information that they believe meets CISPA's very broad definition of a cybersecurity threat and then send out information to anyone in government, including the National Security Agency.”

Burman's group is one of many encouraging people to contact members of congress, spread the word on Twitter, and try to stop the bill's passage. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union are also standing against CISPA.

“In its current form it's just much too broad in the type of info this bill would allow companies to share with the government,” she says. “That in some cases could go well beyond what is necessary to protect networks from cybersecurity threats.”

So what kind of cybersecurity bill would Burman support?

“We would support a much more narrowly tailored bill that would allow companies to share information specifically with each other,” she says, “which we think is the most important, to prevent cyber attacks from happening with each others' network. But if it does need to be shared with the government, we think there should be limitations on what the government can use that information for.”

The chance for a company to share information with the government may be a huge part of the appeal for this bill and the reason companies like Facebook, Intel and Verizon support it. “They like the bill because it gives them wide liability protection, so they can't be charged for misusing information that's being shared with them. Getting government information and intelligence is expensive and it's valuable. The fact that this makes it easier for companies to get their hands on it is always seen as a benefit.”

Also in this program, researchers in Ireland have deduced which cities are most ahead of the curve when it comes to music, cities that listen to the cool music before anyone else does. Can you guess the top North American and European and American cities? No, you can’t. Because they’re Atlanta and Oslo.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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