What the frak is CISPA?

There's something really troubling about CISPA. While the Internet rallied against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and Protect IP, including boycotts, there is near silence about the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. This lack of interest hits BetaNews, too. For more than three weeks, I've asked writers here to do a CISPA story. No one wants it. Am I the only one scared witless about this thing?

I got to thinking about CISPA, again, this afternoon after the info graphic accompanying this story dropped in my mail box. It's a tidy explanation of what is CISPA that sheds some light on why the Internet isn't in uproar about it. Where's Anonymous? Who muted the Reddit outrage?

In its purest form, CISPA seeks to better protect Internet companies, the United States and its interests from cybercriminals and terrorists. But the bill as proposed and even as passed also gives government unprecedented power to collect your personal information in the process.

A House Not Divided Enough

I've loosely followed CISPA's progress, and several events had me thinking BetaNews writers should show more interest (and everyone else, too):

Legislators debated about 7 hours before the bill passed the muster. CISPA is not actually as bad as before, while in other respects it's worse. What concerns me, and really should you, is how much: authority CISPA gives government to collect personal information; freedom for companies to share your information; protection companies receive against civil lawsuits when they violate your privacy rights (well, that's assuming you have any after CISPA).

Some of my peers raise broader concerns: Ted Samson says CISPA "could kill the cloud". Matt Ingram compares CISPA to SOPA: "So is CISPA as bad as SOPA? Probably not".

With the House vote behind, divisions increase, with an interesting cast of characters in either camp. Declan McCullagh's CISPA FAQ is must-read to understand the current issues as the bill heads to the Senate and to better understand what separates advocates from opponents.

The Silence is Deafening

But if there's a loud outcry against CISPA, I haven't heard it. Have you?

There are several reasons why CISPA moves along without much response. Sadly:

  • SOPA opponents declared victory. Game over. They won. (But, of course, they didn't).
  • What's hot topic today is forgotten tomorrow. Stated differently, the Internet has a short memory.
  • As such, social media buzz isn't high volume. It's the "Hey, we've been there, done that" problem.
  • CISPA rewards Internet companies rather than punishes them (as Protect IP and SOPA would have) -- and even promises to protect them from lawsuits -- mollifying opposition.
  • Internet companies would be better empowered to fight cybercriminals and terrorists, by more freely sharing information.
  • People worry more about freedom to share content (pirated or not) than their privacy. Taking away someone's ability to link to (or download) Justin Bieber or Will Smith content bothers more people than giving up nefarious personal information.
  • There is no Enemy No. 1. Who doesn't despise Hollywood and record label moguls? They were Protect IP's and SOPA's biggest backers. There are no obvious ogres behind CISPA to rally the masses against.
  • Before Friday's House vote, there wasn't much to rally against, since it wasn't yet clear how bad CISPA would or would not be. Now with one version of the bill complete and another coming, we know.

Slowly, the Internet is beginning to wake, like a sleeping giant. The tone of some opposition is different. While last time, people cried, "Save the Internet from SOPA", others blame us. AVAAZ calls its "stop CISPA" petition: "Save the Internet from the US". As I write, nearly 782,000 people have signed it.

I ask this simple question about CISPA: Does it put the majority of people's privacy at risk to protect everyone from a small number of criminals? That's for you to answer in comments.

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