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White House 'strongly opposes' CISPA, threateans to veto

Published time: April 25, 2012 21:08
Edited time: May 26, 2012 19:09
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Congress is slated to vote this week on America's most controversial bill in waiting — the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. But now the president’s advisers say they will recommend Obama vetoes CISPA if it makes it to the White House.

Following comments this week from within the Obama administration that suggested that the White House was opposed to H.R. 3523, or CISPA, the executive office of the president has officially released a statement of administrative policy on the polarizing proposal that, if approved, would allow the federal government to snoop into the Internet correspondence of every American through the guise of being a necessary implement in ensuring cybersecurity.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the White House officially condemns CISPA over some of the same issues that have caused other opponents to rally against the legislation across the nation. Specifically, 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.

“The sharing of information must be conducted in a manner that preserves Americans' privacy, data confidentiality and civil liberties and recognizes the civilian nature of cyberspace,” the memo begins. “Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, information sharing, while an essential component of comprehensive legislation, is not alone enough to protect the nation's core critical infrastructure from cyber threats. Accordingly, the administration strongly opposes H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, in its current form.”

“H.R. 3523 fails to provide authorities to ensure that the nation's core critical infrastructure is protected while repealing important provisions of electronic surveillance law without instituting corresponding privacy, confidentiality and civil liberties safeguards,” adds the policy statement,

Additionally, adds the White House, CISPA would inappropriately shield companies from any suits where a company's actions are based on cyber threat information identified, obtained or shared under this bill, regardless of whether that action otherwise violated federal criminal law or results in damage or loss of life. This broad liability protection not only removes a strong incentive to improving cybersecurity, it also potentially undermines our nation's economic, national security, and public safety interests.”

Wednesday’s press release comes only two full days after presidential hopeful and congressman, Ron Paul (R-TX), came after CISPA citing similar faults. In an address made Monday morning, the potential GOP nominee says that “CISPA represents an alarming form of corporatism as it further intertwines governments with companies like Google and Facebook,” and permits the private sector to steal personal communications and hand them to federal authorities “without a warrant, circumventing the well-known established federal laws like the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.”

“It also grants them broad immunity from lawsuits for doing so, leaving you for without recourse for invasion of privacy,” Congressman Paul adds.

On his part, President Obama says now through the White House that “Without clear legal protections and independent oversight, information sharing legislation will undermine the public's trust in the government as well as in the Internet by undermining fundamental privacy, confidentiality, civil liberties and consumer protections.

In an effort to propose a remedy, the Obama administration says that the “the Administration believes that a civilian agency – the Department of Homeland Security – must have a central role in domestic cybersecurity, including for conducting and overseeing the exchange of cybersecurity information with the private sector and with sector-specific Federal agencies.” Those sentiments mirror what Richard A. Clarke, the former special adviser for cybersecurity under US President George W. Bush, told America earlier this month.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times three weeks ago, Clarke proposes that “Under Customs authority, the Department of Homeland Security could inspect what enters and exits the United States in cyberspace.”

“Customs already looks online for child pornography crossing our virtual borders. And under the Intelligence Act, the president could issue a finding that would authorize agencies to scan Internet traffic outside the United States and seize sensitive files stolen from within our borders.”

The Obama administration has not implemented plans to put the authority of monitoring the Internet into the DHS, but suggest on Wednesday that it might be the best idea in the meantime for creating a plan that would alleviate cyberterrorism threats while avoiding the privacy concerns brought up by opponents of CISPA.

Legislation should address core critical infrastructure vulnerabilities without sacrificing the fundamental values of privacy and civil liberties for our citizens, especially at a time our Nation is facing challenges to our economic well-being and national security,” writes the White House. “The Administration looks forward to continuing to engage with the Congress in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to enact cybersecurity legislation to address these critical issues. However, for the reasons stated herein, if H.R. 3523 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

Earlier this week, the UK’s Guardian cited Alex Ross, a senior adviser for innovation to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as saying that “the Obama administration opposes CISPA.”

"The president has called for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation. There is absolutely a need for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation,” said Ross.

Last year the White House announced that they would recommend that President Obama veto the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA). He authorized it on December 31, signing into law the power for the US military to indefinitely detain American citizens.

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