CISPA Won't Die -- It's More Like the Patriot Act than SOPA

Alex Fitzpatrick

The Cyber Intelligence Security and Protection Act, better known as CISPA, is headed to the House floor this week amid a flurry of amendments and controversy.

When the bill first gained notoriety, it was compared to the much-hated Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.

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But there's a key difference. While SOPA was labeled as a threat to free speech, CISPA has been criticized as a threat to online privacy -- and that's why it's well on its way to passing.

Americans will voraciously defend their right to free speech. But they've acquiesced to the slow erosion of their right to privacy. Witness both the passing of the PATRIOT Act in the wake of September 11th, 2001, and the rise of the social web.

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The PATRIOT Act was a response to an incredibly traumatic event, passed at a time when most of us feared for our safety more than anything else. More than a decade later, however, most of the bill still exists as law -- much to the dismay of the privacy-minded.

The bill has contributed to a national ethos of security over everything, including our own privacy. The National Security Agency is even in the process of building a behemoth of a data center specifically to analyze our digital communications.

Simultaneously, social media is turning the concept of privacy on its head, with its ever-present demand to share. A recent satirical piece in The Onion credited Facebook with dramatically cutting the CIA's costs in building a database on every American citizen.

A visit to reveals just how much information people willingly give up on the Internet. Mark Zuckerberg put it this way: "people have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people."

When we've gotten so used to surrendering our privacy, how can anyone expect to suddenly coalesce an online movement based on its defense?

There's also a matter of timing: CISPA had more than 100 co-sponsors and the support of a smorgasbord of technology companies before it ever gained notoriety. That's something SOPA never enjoyed.

There are, of course, still plenty of privacy-minded Internet users among us. They've been trying to organize opposition to CISPA via petitions and on sites like Reddit, where some of the early anti-SOPA chatter began. Technology blogs and civil rights groups have sounded their alarms.

Their efforts are commendable, because they're fighting for something they believe in -- but they're not going to stop CISPA. The forces in favor of the bill are just too great.

What they are doing, however, is changing CISPA.

Since the bill's introduction and subsequent response from the privacy-minded, the bill has been altered at least twice -- and more changes are expected when it reaches the House floor.

The authors of the bill, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (R-Md.), have been working with technology firms and privacy advocates to improve the legislation. Some of the most onerous parts of the bill still remain intact, but I'm told by those involved in the talks that another draft is on its way early this week.

It's unlikely the final bill will address all the privacy concerns held by Internet users -- Rep. Rogers told me that he knows he can't make everyone happy at the same time -- but there's a chance that the final product could be a middle-of-the-road compromise between safety and security.

If that happens, mark this one down as a victory -- albeit a partial one -- for the politically-minded tech community. The final lesson will be this: Where SOPA taught the Internet community it could kill a bill, CISPA will teach it the art of compromise -- which, after all, is the heart of politics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, franckreporter

This story originally published on Mashable here.