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Facebook defends support for CISPA monitoring bill

Other tech sponsors strangely silent

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Facebook has issued a statement explained why it is supporting the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) HR 3523, which is currently being considered by Congress.

CISPA would set up a mechanism for the government's security services to share information on new threats with private companies and utilities. In return, those companies can share data on their users with the government if requested, and the bill ensures they are bulletproof from legal fallout if people complain. Data sharing is voluntary and some data can be stripped of identifying features.

But internet rights campaigners are concerned that the loose language of the legislation will leave it open to be used in a much wider context than national online security. Dan Auerbach, staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told The Register that the provisions of the bill could be stretched to include sharing data for crimes like piracy.

"The biggest problem with the bill is that it's too vague," he explained. "The language in it now is broad enough that it could be used to allow, or compel companies, to do copyright enforcement."

He explained that while the information exchange was voluntary, the government is adept at encouraging companies to play ball. Access to lucrative federal contracts could be offered to those who are willing to cooperate and compliance might be written into such contracts. It's a pattern of behavior that's been noted before, he said.

The bill will be debated in the US House of Representatives this month, and has attracted over 100 co-sponsors. There's also an impressive list of technology companies lining up to support CISPA, including Microsoft, Intel, EMC, Oracle and Facebook. Facebook is the only company to respond to El Reg's requests for comment, and then it stuck to a general statement.

"HR 3523 would impose no new obligations on us to share data with anyone – and ensures that if we do share data about specific cyber threats, we are able to continue to safeguard our users’ private information, just as we do today,' said Facebook's Joel Kaplan, vice president of US public policy in a statement on the site.

"We recognize that a number of privacy and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the bill. The concern is that companies will share sensitive personal information with the government in the name of protecting cybersecurity. Facebook has no intention of doing this and it is unrelated to the things we liked about HR 3523 in the first place."

Facebook's support was seen as important in persuading legislators to drop the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws, along with the market and lobbying muscle of Google. The Chocolate Factory isn't listed as a supporter of the legislation and it has not replied to requests for comment.

A committee staffer working on the bill told The Register that the provisions of the bill were open to amendment and that talks are ongoing between civil liberties groups and the bill's sponsors that would clear up many of the issues. A series of amendments will be introduced next week, which should allay concerns over the scope of CISPA.

In particular, the staffer said that there is a provision within CISPA that explicitly bans the government from insisting on getting information on customers in exchange for security information, and any exchange would be absolutely voluntary. There is also no provision for the data to be used just for intellectual property theft, and the IP clauses in the bill had been included were intended to go after overseas players going after military or commercial data via network hacking, not file sharers.

"They're not looking for some kid in the Dallas suburbs hacking into his school to change his grade," the staffer said. "This is about foreign intelligence services and organized crime figures from overseas." ®

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