CISPA Seeks to Control User Privacy

The Facebook privacy issue is merely a piece to a larger internet privacy puzzle that when completed could be defined by the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The controversial bill was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in April and is currently awaiting a (stalled) vote in the Senate.

CISPA detractors include the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU and Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican and presidential candidate, who said the proposed bill represents the “latest assault on Internet freedom.” Paul is not alone as more than 750,000 concerned Americans signed an anti-CISPA petition championed by the Republican Liberty Caucus.

While most Americans pay little attention to online privacy issues, most would be shocked to learn that an estimated 30,000 privacy inquires are made on unsuspecting Americans each year via the antiquated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which became law in 1986. CISPA would cast a wider net essentially unlocking all privacy settings as deemed appropriate by the government. The bill reads in part: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a self-protected entity may, for cyber security purposes - (i) use cyber security systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property of such self-protected entity; and (ii) share such cyber threat information with any other entity, including the Federal Government...”

The one word in the bill that has caused the most debate is “notwithstanding” which would override wiretap laws, corporate privacy policies, gun laws, educational record laws and medical records, among others. Those in favor of CISPA, including Facebook, claim this law will allow companies and the government to work in unison to identify and tackle “bad actor” cyber threats preying on private information.

“The concern is that companies will share sensitive personal information with the government in the name of protecting cyber security. Facebook has no intention of doing this,” wrote Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president for U.S. Public Policy. “We’ve been engaging directly with key lawmakers as well as industry and consumer groups about potential changes to the bill to help address privacy concerns.”

Kaplan shared his letter via a Facebook posting that garnered nearly 350 responses, most of which were negative. “I will close my account and strongly recommend that everyone I meet closes their accounts if this bill passes,” Mike Rupar wrote. Christopher Bosdol added, “Facebook, stay out of politics. Really, you have no right speaking for the people.”

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