[media-credit id=280 align=”alignleft” width=”134″][/media-credit]Like the phoenix, bills like SOPA and others that would control how a person interacts with the Internet have an annoying habit of resurrecting themselves in different forms. Enter the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a bill that was recently passed through the House which, rather than targeting foreign websites that infringe on U.S. law–as SOPA did– CISPA allows for business collaboration in the collection of personal information, as well as allowing the dissemination of this information to anyone (including the federal government) in the name of “cybersecurity” but otherwise in an unrestricted fashion.
In every bill there are clauses that actually give it teeth, whether it’s the
application of the law or what the punishments are for violating it, there is always something that gives it power. For CISPA it’s a rather simple phrase that reads “Notwithstanding any other provision of the law”. Given an appropriate legal context this means that CISPA will overrule any other relevant law or judgement in a given situation. Any other line in the bill must be examined under this context, that the law in CISPA is absolute. Traditionally, laws speaking in absolutes have a habit of being either tyrannical or ineffective, this stems from the fact that much of human morality is subjective and situational at best, the simplest example that springs to mind is mandatory minimum sentencing for a variety of crimes including drug possession. One-size-fits-all answers to issues are infinitely more problematic than those that allow a measure of discretion.
Notwithstanding is a word capable of destroying lives and building an empire all at once. Imagine you are attempting to get a job, and along with the normal background checks your prospective employer calls up Facebook and requests a transcript of every action you’ve taken on their website. Perhaps they do this because they want to make sure that they aren’t hiring someone who will “leak company secrets”. Facebook’s privacy statement states that they won’t give out your data unless they receive permission from you to do so, so an individual should be fine so long as they don’t give permission for Facebook to sell that information. Or at least they would be, but thanks to a single word, CISPA is completely irreverent to any sort of agreement you had.
CISPA isn’t even limited to other businesses and the government, the exact wording is “share such cyber threat information with any other entity, including the Federal Government.” If you didn’t catch that it says “any other entity.” Taking things to a logical extreme, this means that Microsoft could give the name and address associated with your Xbox live account to that one twelve year old you played with the other day. So long as they can justify something you said over chat as a “cyber threat” there is absolutely nothing stopping them from doing such under the letter of the law.
If the idea of anyone being allowed access to your information should a company feel so inclined to spread it sits poorly with you then you understand the situation. CISPA is so far over the top you can’t even describe it as Orwellian. There is no effort to disguise what it does, or attempt to make claims that it isn’t intended to do what people are realizing about it. CISPA is intentionally designed to allow companies to be omniscient about what individuals do on the Internet. Companies are provided the ability to peer down upon the interacting masses and “protect” themselves with the information they will undoubtedly spread amongst themselves.
Something needs to be done about this sort of legislation before it escalates further. The best thing for cyber security is a bill brought forth by the people, one designed by the common man with the common man in mind. The thing that SOPA, ACTA, and now CISPA all have in common is the fact that they are designed from a corporation’s point of view. For a happy compromise to be reached, the American people must be willing to make certain concessions when it comes to the way they conduct themselves on the Internet.