CISPA approved in House despite online freedom objections

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The controversial digital threat information-sharing bill, the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act (CISPA), passed the U.S. House on Thursday, thus setting up a showdown in the Senate.

And the debate in the court of public opinion surely will intensify in the weeks to come, likely pitting big businesses and civil liberties advocates against one another. Plus, a veto threat (PDF), announced this week by the White House, still looms.

Supporters of the bill, which codifies information-sharing about cyber threats between the private sector and the U.S. government (and immunizes the former from privacy lawsuits), say the measure is necessary to combat today's sophisticated online enemy.

"Our cyber adversaries are smart, determined and most of all persistent," said Peter George, president and CEO of Fidelis Security, which makes network defense products. "And we don't have a prayer in the battle against them unless corporations and the federal government are sharing information. Would law enforcement ever take down a spy or a terrorist or a serial killer if there was no information sharing?"

But the vocal majority appears to sit on the other side of the fence, arguing that such legislation allows for the sharing of not just data specific to cyber threats, but also personal information about individuals. Nothing would stop, critics contend, internet service providers from turning over private communications, such as emails, about their customers.

Naysayers' fervor will only be bolstered by an amendment to the bill that was added shortly before Thursday's vote in the House. The modification allows even more information to be shared with the government, "not merely in matters of cyber security or national security, but in the investigation of vaguely defined cybersecurity 'crimes,' 'protection of individuals from the danger of death or serious bodily harm,' and cases that involve the protection of minors from exploitation, according to a Forbes report.

"We will not stand idly by as the basic freedoms to read and speak online without the shadow of government surveillance are endangered by such over-broad legislative proposals," said Rainy Reitman, who heads the Electronic Frontier Foundation's activism.

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