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White House issues privacy warning on CISPA-style laws

Even Berners-Lee and the EFF weigh in

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The White House has struck a pro-privacy stance on online security legislation such as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which comes up for vote in the US House of Representatives next week.

"The nation’s critical infrastructure cyber vulnerabilities will not be addressed by information sharing alone," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told The Hill. "Information sharing provisions must include robust safeguards to preserve the privacy and civil liberties of our citizens. Legislation without new authorities to address our nation’s critical infrastructure vulnerabilities, or legislation that would sacrifice the privacy of our citizens in the name of security, will not meet our nation's urgent needs."

While careful not to mention CISPA by name, the White House statement comes up at an interesting time for the law. CISPA has over 100 politicians signed up in support ahead of next week's vote but a wave of online protest has been growing against it, similar to that seen against SOPA and PIPA, with the EFF beginning a week of protests against CISPA on Monday.

"CISPA would allow ISPs, social networking sites, and anyone else handling Internet communications to monitor users and pass information to the government without any judicial oversight," said EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman in a statement. "The language of this bill is dangerously vague, so that personal online activity – from the mundane to the intimate – could be implicated."

A separate protest petition aimed at Microsoft, Facebook and IBM for supporting CISPA has close to 250,000 signatures, and Sir Tim Berners-Less called CISPA a serious threat to online freedom and called for it to be dropped in an interview yesterday.

"The amount of control you have over somebody if you can monitor their internet activity is amazing," he explained. "You get to know every detail; you get to know more intimate details of their personal life than any person that they talk to."

As it stands CISPA would set up a mechanism to disperse security updates to commercial companies and utilities. It would also allow government agencies to request personal data on suspects from companies or utilities, indemnify companies who handed it over.

Passing on such data would be entirely voluntary the sponsors argue, and parts of it could be stripped of some identity data. Facebook has said that it supports CISPA for just this reason, but the EFF has warned that the law as it stands is so loosely worded that it could be used for more than protecting the US infrastructure from hackers at home and abroad.

The statement came after top administrations officials briefed the House on the White House's view of forthcoming legislation. In a closed session Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stephanie O'Sullivan briefed the politicos on the current state of the cyberwar. ®

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