CISPA getting last minute rewrites and criticism

Molly Wood Apr 26, 2012

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, seems headed for a vote on the floor of the House as early as today or tomorrow. The bill easily passed through committee a few weeks ago but its future appears a lot less rosy now, after a great deal of criticism has built up against it. The bill’s sponsors Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) are filing amendments to the bill to try to get it passed and moved further toward law.

The bill, essentially, is about easing the path for the government and private industry to share information in order to head off an online attack or deal with one taking place. Critics of the bill claim that the language is too vague to really know what will happen. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation say the bill could lead to violations of privacy and unfair prosecution of Americans for offenses completely unrelated to security.

“This bill doesn’t limit itself to things that we might characterize as cyberwarfare,” says Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law. “It covers cybersecurity and cyberthreats. And, that more expansive terminology means there’s a much larger universe of information that the government will be interested in that the government will be collecting and that the government could potentially misuse.”

Members of Congress are working to clarify language in the bill. Goldman says until it’s finalized, we don’t know how CISPA would affect us if signed into law. “We don’t really know what implications it has,” he says. “Because it simply says the government can say there’s a thing called cyberthreat information or there’s this thing called cybersecurity and then they get all this information and then what happens? Maybe nothing. Maybe it goes into the big database in the sky and never changes our lives. Or maybe it allows the government to go more rogue against its citizens, to do more adverse things to law-abiding, well-meaning citizens because the government knows more and has the power to abuse its station.”

The copyright bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, was shot down a few months ago after loud opposition online. When that same reaction started bubbling in opposition to CISPA, the bill’s sponsors started rewriting and amending like crazy.  “Members are listening to Internet users because of what happened with SOPA,” says Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology, one of the groups that has opposed CISPA and is studying the last minute changes. “It’s not that we have more power. It’s that internet users do.”

Nojeim says SOPA set a precedent for online activism. “I think we are in a new era where people can collectively voice concerns very efficiently through the Internet,” he says. “People want to protect the Internet. Congress is starting to understand that.”

Also on today’s program, we saddle up for the Robot Roundup. Hear about robots who are going to become asteroid miners IN SPACE, robots who are predicted to win Pulitzer Prizes, and robots that can be controlled by brain patterns

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