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What is CISPA?

Tech Talker delves into the legislative arena where politics and technology collide. Find out what is CISPA and why it matters to your online life.

By
Eric Escobar,
May 1, 2013
Episode #075

 

Normally I try and avoid sticky political discussions. However, in this week’s episode I’ll be discussing the most recent legislation affecting the tech world known as CISPA or Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.

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What Is CISPA?

Let’s take a quick overview of exactly what CISPA is. The bill was designed to allow better communication between the U.S. government and private companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. This communication would be used to help thwart cyber-attacks. This would be accomplished by giving companies and the government open lines of communication so that if an attack were taking place, it could be dealt with quickly.

You’re probably thinking, “Well, Tech Talker, this sounds pretty good to me!” True, but here’s where things get a little bit sticky. Although the bill was designed to help defend against cyber terrorism, it had a few extra parts in it that were worded vaguely. These vaguely worded parts would allow large companies to share user information directly with the government.

We’re talking the government legally reading your emails, Facebook messages, your Dropbox files, and pretty much anything else you had stored online, in the cloud.

See also: An Introduction to the Cloud

What’s even scarier is that no warrant is needed. You would not be notified if your data was given away, and it would be excluded from the Freedom of Information Act, which means that you would have no way of knowing your data was being shared.

As if this all weren’t scary enough, these large companies would be shielded from any legal ramifications that would result from sharing user data.

Now, this is a worst case scenario and advocates of the bill might say I’m taking this to an extreme. However, within the scope of the bill, this is all very possible.

Will CISPA Become Law?

You might recall the recent talk about SOPA and PIPA. These two bills had a different focus than CISPA. SOPA and PIPA where designed to stop online piracy and weren’t really geared for cyber threats.

You may have noticed that many websites went dark for SOPA and PIPA in protest of these bills. However, there isn’t nearly as much opposition to CISPA. Why is this? Well CISPA is designed to fight cyber threats that cost large tech companies a lot of money. Any action to reduce these threats would significantly help to improve the bottom lines for these tech giants. Companies such as AT&T, Comcast, HP, and Verizon are all supporters of this bill.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives and now must go before the Senate for approval. At this point in time, it looks as if it will not pass in the Senate and therefore will not become law. It’s important to keep in mind however, that this will definitely not be the only time this sort of legislation is introduced to law-makers.

For the record, I’m also not against laws that help govern the internet and make it a safer place. The perceived intention of this bill would have helped companies, the government, and the public. However, in my opinion it also had the ability to infringe far too much into personal information collected from users of the internet.

I would like to see a bill get passed that respected the privacy of U.S. citizens, by requiring warrants, notification, and transparency in the process of the sharing of our personal information.

With that, here are your 3 Quick and Dirty Tips about CISPA:

  1. CISPA is designed to help private companies and the government to communicate more efficiently to prevent cyber attacks.

  2. CISPA contains broad language which has the ability to allow large tech companies to give your data to the government without your consent or knowledge.

  3. CISPA will likely not become law at this time, but other bills of this type are sure to land in law-makers’ hands soon.

Read the full text of CISPA here

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

CISPA image from Shutterstock

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