CISPA: Big Brother's best friend forever

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act passed the House yesterday, amended but barely improved. Here's what's still wrong with it

Despite much wailing and gnashing of teeth in this and other corners of the InterWebs, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) yesterday, a day earlier than expected.

Though not before our fine legislative members spent seven hours grandstanding for C-SPAN and debating a few choice amendments. The good news is that legislators removed language that defined "cyber threats" as including the theft of intellectual property. The RIAA and MPAA will have to wait another day for their little gift from Congress.

[ Does CISPA qualify for the Internet Hall of Shame? There's still plenty of time to send your nominations to Cringely. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

The bad news is that the House refused to even consider amendments that would strengthen the bill's weak privacy provisions, and it broadened the scope of the bill from cyber security to virtually any use of the Internet that could cause "physical or psychological harm" to minors or threaten the national security of the United States. As TechDirt's Leigh Beadon notes:

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 "cyber security crime." Basically it says the 4th Amendment does not apply online, at all.

For Cnet's Declan McCullagh, the controversy over CISPA boils down to one word: "notwithstanding." Because the text of CISPA declares that its authority applies "notwithstanding any other provision of law," CISPA then trumps any other law that might protect your medical records, school transcripts, video rental histories, and the like.

It works kind of like this: Notwithstanding any laws prohibiting grand theft, I'm going to steal your car. Notwithstanding your right to physical safety, I'm going to punch you in the nose. Notwithstanding the U.S. Constitution, I'm going to drag you out of your bed in the middle of the night, put you in shackles, and change your forwarding address to Gitmo for the next 10 years.

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