The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is the latest bill being debated in Congress that would have a devastating impact on our digital rights online. If you’ll remember, it was just a couple months ago that the Internet was up in arms about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). As you can tell, the authors of these bills have a way of creating catchy titles (of course I’m kidding).
The common thread in each is that information online is treated like a commodity that only a select few people can actually benefit from. In this latest incarnation of a bill, CISPA manages to take it to a whole another level. The most simplistic breakdown is this:
Private Information can be shared
The “information” CISPA is looking to obtain relates to what the bill defines as a “cyber threat”. You might be thinking, “So Steven, what constitutes a cyber threat?” Good question, a cyber threat is either A) an effort to degrade, disrupt, or destroy government OR private systems and networks or B) theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information. These definitions of what constitutes a cyber threat are so vague that text messages, private emails and even your latest Facebook update could be interpreted as a cyber threat.
Now you might be asking yourself, “But who can determine what a cyber threat is?” Basically ANY information deemed a cyber threat could be obtained and shared among three principle parties: The Government, Private Companies, and Private Security Agencies. You want to know the best part? If your information is shared among any of these three entities, none of them have to tell you about it. [For a great visual breakdown, check out this infographic by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.]
The tracking and sharing of data among government agencies and private companies is actually something that is already happening with our cell phones. Police departments across the country frequently request cell-phone tracking information from companies and they willingly oblige (for a fee). There is no obligation on the part of companies to let their customers know that this information is being shared.
I realize the previous five paragraphs have been a brain dump of bad news, so here’s the good news. An interesting thing happened earlier this year on January 18th. The digital community woke up to an Internet that was blacked out. Several major websites like Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, (and of course the Center for Media Justice) restricted access to their website in order to simulate the potential harm of a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). That day of action catapulted SOPA from a wonky telecommunications bill that no one ever heard about to a mainstream water cooler topic of conversation.
This potentially harmful bill is going to be coming up for a vote soon in Congress and in order to ensure that our information and rights online are protected, YOU must speak up today! Whether we’re artists, organizers, or even the casual Internet user our information online doesn’t deserve to be tracked and shared. Join us in telling your legislator to vote NO on CISPA!
And lastly, before you delete your Facebook profile and Twitter account, make sure to get the word out about CISPA and let all your friends and family know that the time to act is now.