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Fight Over Privacy Online Set To Continue In Wake Of CISPA Passing the House

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, April 27 2012

The debate over how much information the private sector should hand over to the federal government in order to more effectively protect U.S. networks from cyberattack is set to carry on unabated after the House passed a bill Thursday evening without the key privacy amendments that were supported by the Obama administration and a prominent civil liberties group.

The House late Thursday passed H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, by a 248-168 bipartisan vote. The legislation passed with 11 amendments that addressed private sector legal liability issues, freedom of information act issues, and some privacy issues. But both the administration and civil liberties advocates say that it still lacks the language that would protect the privacy of individuals.

Among other things, there's no requirement for companies to obscure personally identifiable information when they hand over their customer communications to the government. The Center for Democracy and Technology also objected to the legislation because it would provide access to domestic civilian communications to the U.S. military spy agency the National Security Agency, and would allow for uses of the data unrelated to cybersecurity.

Arizona Republican Ben Quayle's amendment, for example, specifies that the "cyber threat information," can be used by the government to prosecute "related crimes" to cybersecurity. It can also be used to protect "individuals from danger of death or physical injury," and for the protection of minors and for national security -- all of which are the kinds of cases that the FBI already pursues.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers did move to address transparency advocates' concerns by adding an amendment that clarified that the legislation would not pre-empt Freedom of Information Act requests, as some advocates suggested it would.

Several of the other amendments similarly clarified the language of the legislation.

Nevertheless, CDT said in response to the passage of the legislation last evening: "CDT is disappointed that CISPA passed the House in such flawed form and under such a flawed process."

The group acknowledged that some of its suggestions had been adopted, but nevertheless added that they were deeply disappointed that the amendments that would have addressed their core concerns had been blocked.

While many groups such as CDT, the American Civil Liberties Union, Free Press, Demand Progress and Access Now launched online campaigns to encourage the public to contact their members of Congress, it seems the campaign failed to diminish congressional support for the legislation. Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee had previously engaged in their own vigorous campaign to sway public opinion.

Nevertheless, one Internet-freedom advocate remained optimistic Friday.

"I think there is a lot that can be done to popularize action around CISPA and we're looking forward to doing some of it as the fight moves to the Senate," said Fight for the Future's Tiffiniy Cheng. But she hedged a little, adding: "We'll see if we have the bandwidth to get involved."

Prior to the House vote, the White House had released a statement saying that senior administration advisers would recommend President Barack Obama veto the legislation because it did not do enough to protect personally identifiable information.