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NSA-friendly cyber-slurp law CISPA back on the table with new Senate bill

Unsurprisingly with spooks' full support

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The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which allows private companies to share customer information with the NSA and others in the name of cybersecurity, is back on the legislative agenda.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today confirmed the draft law would be brought before the US Senate.

"I am working with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) on bipartisan legislation to facilitate the sharing of cyber related information among companies and with the government and to provide protection from liability," Senator Feinstein told Mother Jones in a statement. "The legislation will ... still maintain necessary privacy protections."

The outgoing head of the NSA and US Cyber Command General Keith Alexander is a strong supporter of CISPA. Earlier this month he told the Telecommunications Industry Association’s annual conference that the legislation was essential to protect the functioning of businesses by heading off online attacks, citing the vulnerability of Wall Street to outside hacking as an example.

CISPA has had a rocky legislative road so far. Originally introduced to the US House of Representatives back in 2011, the act was crafted to allow government departments to share intelligence about online threats with commercial companies. In exchange, those companies had the option of handing over either anonymized or identifiable information about their customers, with full legal immunity.

The initial bill was passed by the House but was shot down in the Senate by a Republican filibuster. Then it was reintroduced in February and passed by 288-127 votes. However, President Obama warned that he might veto the legislation as it stood, citing privacy concerns.

After NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden started leaking details about Uncle Sam's extensive communications surveillance operations, any further progress with the legislation was shelved – but now it appears Senator Feinstein feels the time is right to get it back in play. If the Senate passes the new law then the President will have to decide whether or not to exercise his veto.

The Senate version of CISPA is still being drafted, so the privacy protections (or lack thereof) that caused concern may yet be addressed. In the last round of politicking, companies including Google and Facebook spoke out in its favor, although back then no one knew that they were already passing information to the NSA under the PRISM project.

That said, there is a valid case for legislation that would allow greater information sharing between government and commerce about the latest computer security threats – currently there's no legal framework for doing so. Once the proposed legislation is published privacy advocates will be poring over it to determine if safeguards are strong enough to make the payoff of better security for all worthwhile. ®

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