While much of America was gearing up to watch the NFL draft picks Thursday night, the House of Representatives passed a controversial cybersecurity bill to increase information sharing between private companies and the federal government.
The bill—H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA)—passed at 6:30 p.m. by 248 to 168, boosted by a Republican majority (206 Republicans voted for it, along with 42 Democrats). Debate on the bill was expected Thursday, but the vote was a surprise because it had been scheduled for Friday.
Here's a look at the controversy surrounding the bill, what's in store for its future and how it might affect you:
Check out our explainer below to find out more about CISPA:
• What is the purpose of CISPA? Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers and Maryland Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger sponsored and, along with supporters, crafted CISPA to offer private companies new ways to protect themselves from potential economic cyberspies hailing from countries such as Russia and China. To accomplish this, the bill amends the National Security Act of 1947 (which contains no cyberthreat provisions) to increase information-sharing permission between U.S. businesses and the federal government. Supporters say information regarding cyberthreats will be more quickly and easily disseminated under CISPA.
• Why is it controversial? Opponents aren't arguing against discussing cyberthreats, but they're concerned about the scope of sharing and privacy issues. Under CISPA, companies will be permitted to share information with entities such as the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency and won't be required to protect Internet users' personal data. The shared information is supposed to be related to cyberthreats, but many opponents argue that term is too broad and offers too many exemptions to current privacy laws.
• How does CISPA differ from SOPA? CISPA has been dubbed "the new SOPA," in reference to the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill designed to curb copyright infringement by restricting sites that host pirated content. Congressional action on SOPA was postponed Jan. 20 after fierce protests from technology companies and others. SOPA centered around piracy, while CISPA is about cybersecurity. And while SOPA cracked down on domestic sites, CISPA is focused on overseas entities. Constitutional rights advocates, civil liberties groups and others oppose both bills. Unlike with SOPA, many tech companies, such as Facebook and Microsoft, support CISPA. The bill has already advanced in one chamber of Congress with a majority of support after amendments were added to define cyberthreats.
• Who opposes and who supports CISPA?
Against: The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups such as the Sunlight Foundation, the American Library Association and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are staunchly opposed to CISPA as a potential threat to Americans' constitutional rights. The White House on Wednesday threatened to veto the bill in part over privacy issues and has backed a competing cybersecurity bill offered in the Senate. A majority of House Democrats and 28 Republicans voted against the bill Thursday due to privacy issues and other factors. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas voted no on the bill, saying on Monday that it would create a "Big Brother" culture.
For: Many companies and groups including Facebook, AT&T, Intel, Microsoft, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the conservative Heritage Foundation and tech associations back CISPA as an effective way to combat overseas cyberthreats. Select members of Congress support CISPA for the same reason.
• What is the future of CISPA? Don't expect the Democratic-controlled Senate to rush to pass CISPA after the White House's veto threat. In addition to the president's opposition, CISPA must now compete with the Senate's own cybersecurity legislation.
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