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US House of Representative passes CISPA. Here’s why we should be alarmed

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On April 26 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) by a vote of 248 against 168 despite a presidential veto threat and global opposition. Unlike its predecessor SOPA/PIPA which was opposed and didn’t last, CISPA has the support of large establishments such as Facebook, AT&T, Verizon, Oracle, Intel, Boeing, Nokia and many more. We applaud Microsoft for its recent withdrawal from the absurd bill. According to procedure in the U.S what remains is for the Senate to decide on passing the bill. If the Senate passes it will go to the U.S. president’s desk to be made law.

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What Exactly is CISPA

CISPA gives the U.S. government your internet, and access to all information that belongs to all organizations under U.S. law. It gives them power to request, at will, information from any company that may be holding it when they deem the situation a cyber-threat which the bill defines as “efforts to degrade, disrupt, or destroy the U.S government or private systems and networks”- a statement  too vague and broad by any measure. This means academic records, emails, medical records and logs from Telecom operators to name the obvious. Unlike SOPA/PIPA which was about intellectual property, CISPA fights against privacy.

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A portion in the bill also reads “..notwithstanding any other provision of law”  has also sparked outrage because it puts the Government’s request for information above any legal reproach. It’s most recent amendments have taken CISPA from affecting the internet only and now extends to any organization that has data. Ohio House Representative John Boehner, who supports the bill, said at a news conference that “The White House believes the government ought to control the Internet, government ought to set standards, and government ought to take care of everything that’s needed for cybersecurity”.  Boehner may be right in saying the Government must oversee the protection of citizens but the bill goes too far into privacy invasion.

What it means for the internet

International organizations and everyone else in general is worried because a lot of services used by individuals and businesses worldwide are founded on American soil. This is your Facebook, Twitter, GMail, Android operating system, Windows on your laptop, Mozilla Firefox browser, WhatsApp, the Oracle that powers a lot of our companies, our bank systems. These were not developed outside of the US which means the US Government can request from Oracle information about the server you have in your server room. The bill is unclear on “how much” information they can request for but the potential political complications are clear.

Justification of the Bill

Those behind the bill say their aim is to increase protection of the citizens online and offline. An example is if you think you have someone stalking you on or offline the Police (a Government Department) can request for information (credentials) about the suspect from social networks and anywhere where they can get progress for their investigations.

Despite the need for the Government to “protect”, no part of the bill says it will push companies to update their systems constantly and guard them against hackers and other security threats.

Help Stop CISPA

If you think the bill takes things too far, you can sign against it. Over 800,000 signatures have been added to the anti-CISPA petition and you can add yours too here.

In the words of the American Civil Liberties Union : And even if it has minimal net-benefits, it’s definitely not worth all the privacy we would give up.


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10 thoughts on “US House of Representative passes CISPA. Here’s why we should be alarmed

  1. The US government wants powers to extort information from whoever if it feels it’s been threatened. Fine if the information is used for the right reasons, don’t bet on it though. But if the same information is used to expose evils perpetrated by the US government itself then what? Ask Julian Assange, he’s a story to tell.

  2. This is a serious issue and I applaud you for bringing it to the fore.

    It has soooo many implications that concern all sorts of people from all sorts of sectors.

    You explained it very nicely and in good summary.

    It means if it can be justifiable by US law, your privacy can be violated.

    It means in a way, your access to US-internet based services makes your privacy vulnerable in a way that is nearly impossible to contest as it is under their (US) law and jurisdiction

    Whilst I am not a Diaspora(the social network) fan, this would be a valid benefit of it, if it was widespread…to replace the beloved FB

    It also has implications on the businesses that have protested it because it means people may shy away from using their services, because of that vulnerability to the US law. Having an indirect impact on their(US companies) profitability, hence their(US companies) jobs. It will just take one case to do all the damage and/or ignite user reactions.

    But the plus side, is that local content will be better emphasized. Though we have a long way to go in terms of the variety of services, the quality of content and the accessibility.

    This is a very sad turn of events.

    The greatest advice is to re-evaluate what you know is private to you…and just dont share it. Or use their services to the barest of minimum. Be mindful that ALL SERVICES will be vulnerable. As long as there is traffic going through US soil (including internet root DNS requests) can be accessed LEGALLY, should it be permitted.

    1. Well, its not yet set on stone, but if these are indications of how it will turn out, then all is gloom.

      It gives hope to note that Obama sees the evil in it, and can veto it.

  3. This bill gives the US cross country rights to information which is an infringement of respective countries information independence. What i cannot understand is why these major companies are behind the bill. Look at it, Google has just launched Drive. How am i going to trust it to hold my most secure data without some kind of prejudice.

    The other implication is that the US gvnt becomes an overall government i.e. their law becomes law globally here also remembering the .com suffix makes you answerable to the US in Zimbabwe.

    think of it. Firstly its just access to information then the end is another AIPPA like liberties infringement. I am voting.

  4. The American gorvenment takes its responsibility of protecting its citizens (including companies) and their interests seriuosly. After the 9/11, they seem to be adopting rather extreme measures to do this. The fact that private giants like Facebook, Oracle etc are supportive provides a certain amount of non-government thinking. These are companies that hold a lot of IP in the data security space, which has implications on this bill. They must have thought it through and figured out that it is not that dangerous after all.

    1. “They must have thought it through and figured out that it is not that dangerous after all.”

      I take it you love a life of chance.

      I would not advise you to rely on “giants” supporting the cause for it being justifiable.

      I suggest you take it upon yourself to understand why this issue is sooo big, why some support it and others dont.

      1. In a world that has so many issues demanding one’s attention, one does have to rely on what one considers to be players one is confortable with. Sometimes trying to follow through everything is not possible from a capacity point of view (time, expertise, ability to influence the dscision etc). Thus why you have forums like these where people will express their views and one can pick up whatever develops are taking place from informed players. My contribution in this is simply to say American’s take the issues of security for themselves seriuosly. If you are going to be interacting with their servers, there is very liitle you can do to change their mindset.

      2. Oh as to your take that I love a life of chance, I am completely confused as to which part of my post lead you to make such an unfounded appraisal of my personality. Keeping to the facts as they are without making personal observations about people you know nothing about is one fine way of contributing to a healthy debate on technical forums.

  5. while it might seem like a crude attempt by americans to take over the internet (again)… what most Zimbabweans dont understand is that overseas, almost everything runs on the internet over there. you can buy household and medical insurance online, as well as pay for your phone bills via credit card..nearly everything is done online over there. online identity theft overseas is a very serious issue.. and people use social engineering to get hold of people’s private information through things like facebook, spam and other online scams.

    we dont realise how serious it is.. because here in zimland.. we have such limited use of the net. but imagine if your entire personal affairs were at stake because of a spammer who said he needed your social security # to verify a “lottery you had just won” on the net?

  6. the idea of monitoring the internet and controlling certain aspects is not very bad BUT the Americans have EVIL intentions!

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