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CISPA passes House in unexpected last-minute vote

Published time: April 26, 2012 22:54
Edited time: April 28, 2012 00:29
AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards

AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards

The House of Representatives has approved Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act with a vote count of 248-168. The bill is now headed for the Senate. President Barack Obama will be able to sign or cancel it pending Senate approval.

Initially slated to vote on the bill Friday, the House of Representatives decided to pass Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) Thursday after approving a number of amendments.

Apart from cyber and national security purposes, the bill would now allow the government to use private information obtained through CISPA for the investigation and prosecution of “cybersecurity crime,” protection of individuals and the protection of children. The new clauses define “cybersecurity crime” as any crime involving network disruption or hacking.

“Basically this means CISPA can no longer be called a cyber security 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.' Basically it says the Fourth Amendment does not apply online, at all,” Techdirt's Leigh Beadon said.

Declan McCullagh, correspondent from CNET News, says CISPA will cause more trouble than is immediately apparent.

“The most controversial section of CISPA is the language – that notwithstanding any other portion the of law, companies can share what they want as long as it’s for what they call a ‘cyber security purpose,'" he told RT.

The CISPA battleground in numbers

CISPA was introduced in the House last November.  Critics chided the bill, saying its broad wording could allow the government to spy on individual Internet users and block websites that publish vaguely defined ‘sensitive’ data.

"[CISPA] doesn’t really have any protections against cyber threats, all it does is make people share their information. But that’s not going to solve the problem. What’s going to solve the problem is actual security measures, protecting the service in the first place, not spying on people after the fact," Internet activist Aaron Swartz told RT.

The White House issued a statement Wednesday saying President Barack Obama would be advised to veto the bill if he receives it. The Obama administration denounces the proposed law for potentially giving the government cyber-sleuthing powers that would allow both federal authorities and private businesses to sneak into inboxes and online activities in the name of combating Internet terrorism tactics.

We asked our Twitter followers what they think of CISPA's possible adoption into law – and they don't seem happy.


Earlier, the House of Representatives and Senate also considered adopting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). These bills sought to entitle the US government to curb access to “rogue websites” that illegally hosted intellectual property. The bills could effectively force search engines to remove these websites from search results, an action many private companies considered intrusive.

PIPA and SOPA were opposed by many Internet giants including Google, Mozilla, Facebook, Yahoo!, Wikipedia and Reddit. Google organized a petition against the legislation, while Wikipedia held a 24-hour blackout to protest the bill in January. As a result, SOPA was recalled while PIPA was postponed indefinitely.

However, CISPA was actually backed by Facebook, despite its opposition to SOPA and PIPA. In a blog post on April 13, Joel Kaplan, Vice President of US Public Policy at Facebook, argued that if enacted into law, the bill would “give companies like ours the tools we need to protect our systems and the security of our users’ information, while also providing those users confidence that adequate privacy safeguards are in place.”

A number of big companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, Boeing, Verizon and Oracle have also supported CISPA.

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