CISPA Passes, but appears set to stall in the Senate

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Nadia Kayyali

On Thursday, April 18, despite unresolved privacy issues, the House of Representatives voted against privacy and approved the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The legislation passed with 288 votes in favor and 127 against. While the majority of yes votes were Republican, nearly half of the Democrats in the House also voted yes.

The vote comes on the heels of the CISPA Week of Action in which corporations and Americans made their opposition to the bill clear. Companies such as Craigslist and Firefox took part and thousands of people contacted their representatives in Congress to express their concern around CISPA. Earlier this week, the White House also issued a veto threat, stating:

[T]he administration still seeks additional improvements and if the bill, as currently crafted, were presented to the president, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.

CISPA passed out of the House Intelligence Committee last week by a vote of 18-2. The bill was marked up in a closed session on Thursday, April 10, despite urgings from the privacy and civil liberties community to keep the proceedings public. The closed markup begs the question: if the bill presents no privacy concerns, why not move it forward in a transparent and open way?

Unsurprisingly, the markup did not yield a significantly improved version of the bill. The committee voted down four amendments that would have significantly increased privacy protections. On the floor, the House voted down further privacy amendments, including one amendment that "would have ensured companies’ privacy promises — including their terms of use and privacy policies — remained valid and legally enforceable in the future. Another would have curbed police ability to conduct warrantless searches of CISPA-shared data."

The sponsors of the bill, Representatives Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), have maintained that there is no cause for concern over internet privacy and have made inaccurate and misleading claims about the bill. They have argued that the bill does not contain overbroad provisions or definitions, brushing over the legal protections from liability for negligent actions by corporations that the bill creates. This is hardly surprising, consider the corporate interests behind the bill, and the dollars they have spent on lobbying. In fact, CISPA supporters spent 140 times as much lobbying as CISPA opponents. Similarly, CISPA supporters have donated 13 times more money in campaign contributions as CISPA opponents.

However, it appears that the Senate has not been convinced. The bill still has to be approved in the Senate, and it appears that they are not eager to move.  Senate reticence and the White House veto threat are good news, but anyone concerned about online privacy should continue to check out Electronic Frontier Foundation’s CISPA action page.

Originally appeared on the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's People's Blog for the Constitution.