If you thought that the cyber privacy war was over with the defeat of the MPAA-promoted Senate’s PIPA and the House’s SOPA bills late last year, think again.
A new House bill (H.R. 3523), dubbed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), was passed on April 26th. It will expand the ability of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency (NSA) to read your emails and share them with other federal agencies as well as private companies. It faces an uncertain future in the Senate and the Obama administration has threatened to veto it.
The Electronic Freedom Foundation and other groups have raised serious objections to the bill. EFF notes that the law gives “companies the power to read users’ emails and other communications and hand them to the government without any judicial oversight whatsoever…” Going further, EFF warns that the bill’s definitions of “cybersecurity” and “intellectual property” are too broad, thus smuggling the discredited SOPA legislation into law under a new name.
The bill’s ostensible purpose is to update the National Security Act of 1947 and to amend the recently adopted National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. The bill would further erode individual privacy rights by enabling federal agencies like the DHS and NSA from having to go through the courts for what was previously known as wiretapping in the fight against alleged “enemies” or “terrorists.”
The bill, in effect, gives federal agencies, as well as companies like Google and Facebook, the power to spy on an online user’s private activities. This means that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), search engines and social networking sites would be able to not only read your emails and other postings, but make your data available to government agencies. If passed unchanged by the Senate, your online privacy rights would essentially disappear.
The bill has two aspects, one targeting online users, the other safeguarding private companies. With regard to individual online users, in addition to reading your communications, the bill would allow online service providers to block or modify your communication. It would also allow the NSA or other federal agencies to store and search your communications any time from now to eternity.
For companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, IBM, and Symantec that back the legislation, it would protect them from litigation relating to turning over private information to the federal government. They would be spared the legal challenges faced by AT&T in 2005-2006 when it cooperated by giving the NSA private telephone and other communications records. In addition, the bill would allow private companies to monitor employees’ online activities.
While private companies and the federal agencies benefit from the House bill, ordinary online users are at greater risk of losing their privacy rights. A word to the wise.
* * *
David Rosen is a writer and business-development consultant. He is author of the indie classic, Off-Hollywood: The Making & Marketing of Independent Films (Grove), originally commissioned by the Sundance Institute and the Independent Feature Project. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com and www.DavidRosenConsultants.com.