CISPA Cyber-Threat Bill Passes House Despite Worries Over Privacy

The controversial legislation will now go to the Senate, despite a threat from the White House to veto it.

The House of Representatives passed the controversial CISPA cyber-threat bill late April 26, despite worries from civil liberties advocates that it threatens the privacy of Internet users and threats from the Obama Administration to veto it.

The House was expected to debate CISPA€”the Cyber-Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act€”April 26 and vote on it the following day. However, representatives passed an amended version of the bill 248-168, sending it on its way to the Senate. The Senate already has worked up its own cyber-security legislation, but that reportedly has stalled.

CISPA would make it easier for government agencies and private businesses to share information regarding cyber-threats. Several top-tier tech companies, including AT&T, Facebook, Microsoft and Intel, have come out in support of the bill, arguing that the bill would make it easier for them to combat cyber-attacks and make the Internet safer for all users.

The bill also received the support of trade associations, including TechAmerica and CTIA.

However, a host of other tech organizations€”such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)€”as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have come out against the measure, saying it would give government agencies too much access to the private information of Internet users, including email messages and other personal data. Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the Internet and a staunch advocate for a free and open Web, said earlier this month that that CISPA not only puts U.S. citizens at risk, but also people around the world.

The legislation €œis threatening the rights of people in America, and effectively rights everywhere, because what happens in America tends to affect people all over the world,€ Berners-Lee told the British newspaper The Guardian.

Opponents€”who earlier this month had encouraged protests via the Internet in hopes of spiking the bill, as happened with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA)€”criticized the House after CISPA was passed.

€œCISPA goes too far for little reason,€ ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said in a statement late April 26. €œCyber-security does not have to mean abdication of Americans€™ online privacy. As we€™ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there€™s no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity.€

"As the Senate takes up the issue of cyber-security in the coming weeks, civil liberties will be a central issue,€ Lee Tien, EFF senior staff attorney, said in a statement. €œWe must do everything within our power to safeguard the privacy rights of individual Internet users and ensure that Congress does not sacrifice those rights in a rush to pass vaguely-worded cyber-security bills.€

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and one of the sponsors of CISPA, applauded the passage of the bipartisan bill.

"This is not just a victory on the House floor,€ Ruppersberger said. €œThis is victory for America. Our nation is one step closer to making a real difference protecting our country from a catastrophic cyber-attack. This shows what can happen when Democrats and Republicans work together for the good of our country."

Over the past few weeks, several amendments to the bill were made to make it more palatable to civil liberties advocates, including limiting what government agencies could do with any personal communications they receive from tech companies and broadband providers. However, the amendments apparently didn€™t go far enough to appease opponents.