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Say 'hello' to CISPA, it will remind you of SOPA

<b>commentary</b> The latest bill that would give law enforcement new powers over the Internet bears a striking resemblance to the last bill that did that. And the one before that, says commentator Violet Blue.

4 min read
SOPA protest
In January, hundreds of people turned out in New York City to protest SOPA and related legislation Sarah Tew/CNET


You may not have heard of it yet because it's been flying under the radar. It's a lot like PIPA, which was a lot SOPA (I'm sure you heard of those). Actually, some people are calling it "worse than SOPA," and it's sponsored by a congressman who thinks the death penalty should be considered for Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking military information to Wikileaks.

Be worried: they think we stopped paying attention after SOPA -- so they made this.

CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (PDF) (aka H.R. 3523), is up for a vote in two weeks. Unlike its failed cousins, it has the support of companies such as AT&T, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec, Verizon, and many more. A full list of all 28 corporate supporters is here.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), is also trying to get tech press to tell you to think that his bill CISPA is "nothing like SOPA."

Don't believe it.

CISPA's primary function is to remove legal barriers that might keep Internet companies from giving all your communication and information to the government. It allows "cyber entities" (such as Internet service providers, social networks like Facebook and cell phone companies like AT&T) to circumvent Internet privacy laws when they're pressured by Homeland Security to hand over or shut down -- well, almost anything of yours online that the government wants, no warrant needed.

Critics like the the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy & Technology say CISPA's crazily vague wording makes it possible for the US government to take extreme measures against sites like The Pirate Bay and Wikileaks, and could extend to sites that publish Wikileaks-like information such as Guardian UK or The New York Times.

They're not that far off the mark with the Wikileaks association, given that Rogers appears to be out for blood with Manning. CISPA was drafted just after Rogers said an execution should be considered for Manning. The bill has been in revisions for nearly one and a half years now.

Sound much different than SOPA? Nope, not yet. Still, Rogers is trying. Recently, he and CISPA's co-author Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) staged a conference call to influence tech reporters whom they called "Cyber Media and Cyber Bloggers." In the press briefing, CISPA's authors unconvincingly tried to spin CISPA as being nothing like SOPA.

They pointed out that CISPA has nothing to do with domain seizures. This is true on the surface, yet under the hood the bill is designed to give the Homeland Security entities involved in ongoing domain seizures a broad range of shiny new tools to use for shutdowns.

CISPA is primarily a surveillance bill. With CISPA, a company like Google, Facebook, Twitter, or AT&T could intercept your e-mails and text messages, send copies to one another and to the government, and keep it from being sent if it fits into a plan to stop "cybersecurity" threats.

New Yorkers protest SOPA & PIPA bills (photos)

See all photos

So, say the government thought you were discussing a cybersecurity threat or IP theft -- such as illegal file sharing somehow related to cybersecurity -- on Facebook. The bill would not force Facebook to hand you over to the feds, yet CISPA does make it so that Facebook will be completely unrestricted (say, by your rights) to cooperate with Homeland Security to the fullest extent.

The so-called "cybersecurity bill" lets the US government into any online communication if it believes there is reason to suspect cyber crime, or a threat of intellectual property theft. The bill defines "cybersecurity systems" and "cyber threat information" as anything related to protecting networks from:

'(A) efforts to degrade, disrupt, or destroy such system or network; or '(B) theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information.

"Cybersecurity" is not actually defined in the bill.

Similar to SOPA, CISPA guts citizens' online privacy protections but even more, it allows the US government to use Internet companies to access, intercept or stop the digital communications and online activity of any person - "for cybersecurity purposes."

Like SOPA, the bill tries to lump IP theft (and the threat of intellectual property theft) into the definitions of criminal cybersecurity protection.

CISPA currently has support from over 100 representatives in the House. It's going to the House the week of April 23, and the EFF has this online tool where you can contact your representative and tell them to stop this. Now. Before congressmen with bloodthirst get to make laws that erode our online rights to avenge their personally driven, twisted sense of duty.

SOPA proponents apparently still think the Internet's awareness and actions to stop SOPA were nothing more than a trend.

So we find that yet again, we need to tell Congress to keep its hands off the Internet - and stop trying to pass laws about something it clearly doesn't understand.