The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is either a critical tool in fighting crime or a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Fourth Amendment reads as follows: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
CISPA allows to government to access anyone’s personal information with few privacy protections and supersedes all other laws related to personal privacy. Businesses get full immunity from lawsuits for providing information to the government while the activities under the bill are specifically excluded from the Freedom of Information Act thereby limiting anyone from assessing whether an abuse of power has occurred.
For example, Facebook or Google can collect all information possible including not only your activities on their service but information residing on your computer. While all state that information will only reviewed under government request, behaviors to date suggest that the information may be used for other purposes.
Prior to passage, the law was amended in the House of Representatives to limit the use of data collected to issues surrounding cyber security, cyber-crimes, protecting individuals from death or injury, protecting minors from harm and protecting the national security of the United States.
Depending on your position on this issue, the April 26th vote in the House was primarily a party line vote – Republicans supported the bill while Democrats were against it. Locally, Representatives Mary Bono Mack and Jerry Lewis voted in favor of the bill. President Obama has indicated that he will veto the legislation if the bill makes it through the Senate and to his desk. His primary reason is that the bill allows blanket legal immunity to business and government alike and does not include enough safe guards toward the private information of citizens.
The need for the law comes from an increasing list of cyber-attacks on business and government alike. In 2007, the United States and Israel unleashed a virus called Stuxnet on Iran and its nuclear development facilities. The virus essentially turned their computers to mush. After the virus was cleaned up, the program can still interfere with their diagnostic program identifying whether a malfunction is real or a hoax. Computer expert Ralph Langner states that the virus is such a big problem that it could cause a nuclear meltdown due to the damage the virus wreaks. According to documents released by Wikileaks, Russian nuclear scientists who are helping Iran in their development of nuclear power state that the problem persists and have advised Iranian leaders to slow down until the problem is resolved. Iran is pushing on despite the dire warning.
Online security firm, McAfee last year thwarted a cyber-attack on United States and United Nations computers by a state power speculated to be China. McAfee states that the same government perpetrated similar attacks on Taiwan, India, Canada and the International Olympic Committee. The reason for these attacks appears to be in a quest for military, diplomatic and economic advantage.
Given the sophistication of computer viruses, the same type of virus is believed to have the ability to cause a financial collapse. In 2007, two banks in Estonia were essentially shut down for over a week due to a virus originating in Russia.
Whether to support or oppose CISPA depends on your perspective – Democrats are more concerned with individual rights while the Republicans are more concerned with protection against threats against our country. The real answer is most likely found in a more nuanced approach that protects individual civil liberties while providing the tools needed to fight real and present threats.