CISPA, a terrible bill that would let websites hand over your personal data to the government with little oversight, just passed the U.S. House of Representatives. That's not good.
Although the vote was scheduled for tomorrow, in something of a surprise, it took place today, and passed the House 248-168.
The bill is still unabashedly a violation of your privacy rights—nearly anything you say or do online can be handed over to the government without so much as a warrant—although version of the bill that passed this afternoon is both better and worse than it had been in its original form. As CNET points out, one amendment was withdrawn before the proceedings that would have given the Department of Homeland Security sweeping and, more importantly, superseding authority. When it was in, CISPA would have been a DHS trump card, essentially, overruling any local or state legislation that contradicted it. That's gone.
That doesn't, though, mean that you should stop worrying about CISPA. As the EFF makes all too clear, the truly concerning parts of the bill—the ones that give the government the right to conduct surveillance on your Internet everything without your knowledge or permission—are firmly in place.
Weighing even more heavily on the scary side of the ledger was an amendment from Rep. Ben Quayle (R - AZ) that broadened those activities that would fall under government jurisdiction and surveillance. As TechDirt observes:
Previously, CISPA allowed the government to use information for "cybersecurity" or "national security" purposes. Those purposes have not been limited or removed. Instead, three more valid uses have been added: investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crime, protection of individuals, and protection of children. Cybersecurity crime is defined as any crime involving network disruption or hacking, plus any violation of the CFAA.
Quayle, who was also a co-sponsor of SOPA, effectively made it so that any suspicion of anything illegal on the Internet—not just the vague Chinese cyber warfare threats the bill had built its stature on—is enough for the government to go through your entire online life.
What's perhaps most surprising, and in some ways most damning, about today's vote was the timing. It had been planned for tomorrow, Friday, for some time, and was pushed up just this afternoon. And concluded, conveniently, after many voters had long since stopped paying attention to the news. By tomorrow morning, it will have been washed away by a fresh news cycle and three day weekends and general Friday apathy.
That doesn't mean that CISPA is a fact of life now, though. Far from it. The majority Democratic Senate has yet to vote, and even if it manages to pass both legislative bodies, President Obama has already promised a veto.
Here's who voted, if you want to see whether your Representative does or does not think it's okay for the government to read your emails and Facebook messages. Although fair warning, it's largely split down party lines:
And remember, too, that it's not as though these politicians are going rogue. Unlike SOPA, against which much of the tech community rallied, most internet heavyweights have expressed their support for CISPA. Some notables include:
CTIA - The Wireless Association
Cyber, Space & Intelligence Association
Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance
Information Technology Industry Council
Internet Security Alliance
National Cable & Telecommunications Association
US Telecom - The Broadband Association
And that's far from the complete list. They're also easy enough to contact, if you'd like to express your disappointment in the results of today's vote.
And when you do, it's best to be informed about what, specifically, you find offensive. Here are all the changes that were made to the bill today, including Quayle's odious amdenment:
And this is a previous version of the bill, with the full legal language, which isn't included in today's report. Plenty to find distasteful there, as well.
Comparisons between SOPA and CISPA have been cropping up, and they're inevitable because they're both an uncomfortable and disquieting intersection of government and Internet. But the two bills are also different in crucial ways. Where SOPA aimed to prosecute, CISPA will spy. Where citizens rallied against SOPA in final days before voting, CISPA has remained largely off the radar. Where tech giants stood up against SOPA, they've lined up to join the CISPA caravan.
Where does that leave us? One step closer to an online police state that borders on the dystopian. And that's not hyperbole; that just what happens when people who both fundamentally and willfully misunderstand the nature of the Interent try to regulate it. Your entire life is online. And unless the Senate takes a stand or Obama follow through on his veto promise, it'll soon be an open book to the federal government.