Very soon, the federal government could know what you bought for dinner last night, or whether you and your wife are having a nasty email fight about something very personal-and they could know this all because of CISPA-The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2013. If you’re using gmail, Google might already know this information, but our Constitution has traditionally protected us from the federal government getting its hand on such intimate, personal information without a warrant or court oversight.
CISPA is a bill that will be voted upon very soon in the U.S. House of Representatives; it allows for voluntary information sharing between private companies and the federal government. The bill’s language and provisions continue to be amended and shaped in closed-door, secret meetings by the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. In principal, the bill is supposed to prevent cyber-attacks. But it does this through sweeping, unprecedented information sharing provisions that allow and in fact encourage private companies, like Facebook and Google, to turn over every intimate detail they’ve collected about you from your online activities, your emails, your texts, your shopping habits, your web-browsing activities, etc., to the US government.
Proponents of the bill argue that it will protect the US from cyber-attack because it allows companies to receive information from the government and turn information over to the government. This sharing of information, they say, will help prevent or at least curb the hacking epidemic.
But the Center for Democracy and Technology points out that CISPA actually allows hacking, because it allows companies to look for cyber threats-not just on their own computers-but on other companies’ computer systems as well.
Another very concerning part of CISPA is that the companies that do hand over consumers’ private information to the government get immunity from legal liability for handing that data over to the government. This means that the government is giving companies an incentive to hand over your data, i.e., immunity from civil and criminal liability, and at the same time circumventing our common law and constitutional privacy protections-such the Fourth Amendment-from the government collecting information on us without a warrant.
What can you do to protect your privacy?
You should contact your United States Congressman, and let his or her office know your thoughts on CISPA.
Anne McKenna is a partner at the law firm of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, LLC, where she Chairs the firm’s Internet and Privacy Law Group, SilverMcKenna. Anne has been a litigator for two decades and is co-author of the four-volume treatise, Wiretapping & Eavesdropping: Surveillance in the Internet Age, 3rd Ed., Fishman & McKenna (West/Reuters 2010).