The Red Wire: Corporate-Backed CISPA Passes US House of Reps, 288-127


red-wire-corporate-backed-cispa-passes-us-house-of-repsAfter two days of debate, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives last Thursday by a vote of 288 to 127.

The bill, which gives federal government agencies the power to conduct searches of information they obtain from internet service providers and other companies without a warrant, also passed the House last year, though by a smaller margin. It now heads to the Senate, which take it up last year under threat of a veto from President Barack Obama. The president has repeated his vow to veto CISPA again if it arrives on his desk in its current form.

Members of Congress from both parties supported CISPA. According to the official House roll call for the bill, Republicans were particularly enthusiastic, voting 196-29 in favor of it; Democrats were split nearly down the middle, with 92 voting for the bill and 98 against.

But the biggest supporters of the bill were large American corporations like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, IBM, Intel, McAfee, Oracle, and Time Warner. These CISPA supporters and others like them outspent opponents in lobbying for the bill by a 38-to-1 margin. According to MapLight’s analysis of data from OpenSecrets.org, House members have received on average 13 times more money in campaign contributions from CISPA supporters than from opponents. For members of the House Intelligence Committee, like co-sponsors Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), the figure is even higher: committee members receive 15 times as much campaign cash from CISPA supporters as they do from CISPA opponents.

Perhaps owing so much of their re-election campaign cash to CISPA-supporting corporations is why some lawmakers are willing to say just about anything to scare up support for CISPA.

Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) was one of the most blatant fearmongerers during debate. He cited the Boston Marathon bombing as a reason to pass CISPA – and not because of any benefit to law enforcement. So much worse than that, he took a page from Rahm Emanuel’s “never let a good crisis go to waste” playbook and used a truly awful tragedy as rhetorical support for the unrelated bill. “I think if anything, the recent events in Boston demonstrate, that we have to come together to get this done in name,” U.S. News reported McCaul saying at a House hearing to debate amendments to CISPA. “In the case of Boston, they were real bombs. In this case they’re digital bombs. These bombs are on their way. That’s why this legislation is so urgent. For if we don’t and those digital bombs land and attack the United States, and Congress failed to act, then Congress has that on his hands.”

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY), a member of the Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats, and Capabilities, didn’t have the nerve to exploit the senseless murders of three people and injuries to nearly 200 more. But he did embrace his fellow Congressman’s strategy of relying on non-sequiturs. He said Thursday from the floor of Congress that “intelligence experts believe that rogue nations like Iran and even independent groups like WikiLeaks are pursuing very aggressive measures to hack into our nation’s power grid, our air-traffic control systems, individuals’ personal financial records, and other…uh…sort of records across the country.” Maffei offered no proof of WikiLeaks’ supposed involvement in the attempted hacking of all these things, relying instead on citations of the opinions of unnamed “experts” and mentioning the site in close proximity to Iran and China.

What makes these types of scare tactics particularly abhorrent is that they set out to make opposition to CISPA tantamount seem borderline treasonous, when plenty of opponents are perfectly patriotic Americans who happen to disagree with the brute-force mechanisms its backers have resorted to. According to CNET’s Declan McCullagh, the bill as passed by the House “will allow the federal government to compile a database of information shared by private companies and search that information for possible violations of hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal laws” – including “searching the database for ‘cybersecurity purposes,’ for the ‘investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes,’ for ‘child pornography’ offenses, for ‘kidnapping,’ for ‘serious threats to the physical safety of minors,’ and any other crime related to protecting anyone from ‘serious bodily harm.’” As Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) points out, just that last search basis alone is vague enough to allow the government to use it as a justification to fish through a database for evidence of all sorts of crimes that have nothing at all to do with “cybersecurity.”

There’s absolutely no reason that security has to rely on such poorly written legislation. If CISPA’s sponsors in Congress were truly concerned about defending the United States from the many threats it faces, they could have avoided such vehement opposition by building in safeguards for the American public. Instead they have thrown liberty to the wind in pursuit of fleeting security, rushing to give both corporations and federal military agencies everything they want and not only ignoring all other concerns but actively fighting to paint them as uninformed and baseless. That suggests that their agenda is less focused on the security of the United States than they have let on. Otherwise why would they pass legislation that destroys privacy for everyone, guts the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and rewards the entities who aid and abet that gutting with immunity for their help?

The best hope the people of the U.S. (and the rest of the internet) have now is the set of checks and balances built into the Constitution. The Senate must now craft its own companion legislation to CISPA. If there are major differences between the bill they’ll have to be hashed out in a conference committee between the two houses of Congress. Only then would the bill go to the president, who has already threatened a veto of CISPA in its current form precisely because of its lack of privacy protections. That’s a long road for the bill to travel before becoming law, especially given its controversial past history. Hopefully it will be a road too far and Congress will be forced to reconsider its stand on ignoring Constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.

Back to Top