Michael Rogers, Republican Congressional Representative of Michigan's 8th district and sponsor of CISPA

House representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced a bill back in November called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (H.R. 3523) or CISPA. It has since been referred to and reported by the appropriate committees. Since then, according to Representative Rogers’ own web site, over 100 members of congress have already announced their support for the bill:

The 105 co-sponsors of the bill include 10 committee chairmen.  Additionally, a wide range of major industry and cyber associations, such as Facebook, Microsoft, the US Chamber Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the Internet Security Alliance, TechAmerica, and many others have sent letters of support for the bill.  A list of major industry and association supporters can be found at http://intelligence.house.gov/bill/cyber-intelligence-sharing-and-protection-act-2011

Unlike SOPA and PIPA, CISPA is all about collecting and sharing “cyber threat intelligence” and has less to do with copyright infringement concerns. This bill does not directly threaten the business interests of web companies, which means we should not expect their help in fighting the bill. In fact Facebook, IBM, Intel, Oracle, and Microsoft (among others) have already sent letters in support.

There is a “TL;DR” on the politics subreddit that I have fact checked and am comfortable with reproducing here:

[CISPA] Gives ISPs power to collect information about you and share it with companies. Does not explicitly allow censorship.

  1. ISPs have the power to collect information about your Internet use.
  2. The RIAA/MPAA/etc con [sic] contract with your ISP to obtain this information.
  3. This information is “proprietary” — you don’t have the right to know what info they’re collecting on you.
  4. The ISP is exempt from all legal and criminal action for surveillance under this bill.

One large part of the bill that the author of the TL;DR (user bo1024) does not mention is the role of CISPA in the War on Terror. Under CISPA, the Director of National Intelligence  would decide who in the private sector should be given high level security clearance and the ability to work closely with federal intelligence services to monitor, collect, and share online activity that is deemed to be a “cyber threat”. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, according to the official summary, must share with Congress a summary of all the information given to the federal government, and will provide “recommendations for improvements and modifications to address privacy and civil liberties concerns.” Such oversight might provide a modicum of reassurance to some, but –and this is me editorializing– the bill itself runs counter to the most liberal definition of civil liberties or privacy.

As I stated earlier, there will be no internet blackout from the tech companies on this one. Tech companies that were openly against or took no position on SOPA/PIPA are already supporting CISPA.  Here are links to the letters of support for:

Congressman Rogers is the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, which means he oversees the congressional body that sets the rules for the intelligence-gathering agencies of the American federal government.  He also received a total of $34,000 from the telecom services and equipment industry between 2011 and 2012. It is only fair to note however, that he received more funding from the health professionals ($74,000), Insurance ($69,290), and Pharmaceutical ($65,749) industries in the same time period. ISPs and telecommunications equipment companies were some of his largest individual contributors. AT&T and Verizon gave him $6,000 each, Comcast, L-3 Communications, and Time Warner cable gave him $5,000 each.

SOPA and PIPA were supported by telecoms, but roundly rejected by every company that based its business model on advertiser-based content. Wikipedia, Mozilla, and similar foundations were also against these bills, largely because a single copyright infringement could spell the destruction of their entire site. When they blocked out their home pages, or displayed a banner that urged customers to contact their representatives, it was because their business models were in jeopardy- not because they were concerned with civil liberties. CISPA is a direct affront to civil liberties but “cyber threats” have less to do about copyright infringement and more to do with the well-being of information/communication infrastructures and what is commonly referred to as “national security.” Facebook, Microsoft and others are not nearly as concerned about CISPA and (I believe) it is safe to assume that the provision that protects private entities from law suits has a lot to do with that change of heart.

Ultimately, I am most interested with how Twitter responds to CISPA. A company that has demonstrated s a unique perspective on governments’ relationship to free speech might oppose this sort of legislation. At the same time, CISPA does not threaten censorship so much as surveillance, and we have seen how Twitter reacts to the former but not the latter. The company’s management likes to tout its role as a tool of freedom fighters in foreign countries but we hear comparatively less about its roll in American activism.

CISPA is an excellent example of the federal government’s interest in obtaining online superiority in the domestic War on Terror.   Control and access of bits is becomes as important as atoms in modern warfare. It is no surprise that governments are seeking to extend their jurisdiction into the realms of online social activity. The Internet’s ability to dispace our actions temporally as well as geographically makes existing laws difficult to enforce, or makes them obsolete. The third amendment makes it illegal to quarter soldiers in privates homes, but that does not mean the government is prohibited from running data-collecting software on the servers that run my personal web site or store my data. The foundations of the first amendment assumed that individuals’ speech and the press were restricted to national borders. CISPA and similar legislation is the beginning of a new kind of colonization. Governments and corporate entities are interested in maintaing online, the same sorts of controls that they had offline. Whether or not we want to make our online spaces distinct and apart from the controls that we find offline, is up to us.

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