CISA blowup: 'Web giants sharing private info isn't about security – it's state surveillance'

Senators clash over bill inviting companies to reveal all to Feds

Dianne Feinstein
Trust us, we're the government ... Senator Feinstein

There were sharp words on the floor of the US Senate on Wednesday as lawmakers debated the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) and its amendments.

The bill, proposed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would allow internet giants and other companies to share people's personal information with the US government so it can be analyzed for signs of lawbreaking – be it computer related or not.

In return, the companies would get legal immunity from angry customers, although legal action is unlikely because the businesses and the government don't have to reveal what they have shared, even with a freedom of information request.

The proposed legislation has been criticized by internet rights groups, and also by technology firms. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others published an open letter calling for the legislation to be rewritten, and since then Apple, Salesforce.com, Yelp, and Wikipedia have joined them in opposing the draft law.

Feinstein said organizations won't be forced to reveal citizens' private lives to Uncle Sam: it won't be mandatory for businesses to hand over people's private records, she claimed.

"If you don't like the bill, you don't have to do it," Feinstein said.

"So it's hard for me to understand why we have companies like Apple and Google and Microsoft and others saying they can't support the bill at this time. You have no reason, because you don't have to do anything, but there are companies by the hundreds if not thousands that want to participate in this."

Her colleague Burr said on the floor that he couldn't understand the opposition to CISA. Businesses against the new law will put their users at risk, he said, because by not sharing people's personal information, they will not be given intelligence and heads up on attacks from the Feds.

"When the companies who are against this get hacked, they are going to be begging to cooperate with the federal government," he opined.

Very little to do with security

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) disagreed, saying that the reason most technology companies oppose CISA is because they don't want to share people's private information, and they fear that customers will be less likely to use their products if chapter and verse on their lives is handed over without resistance.

This bill has very little to do with security, he said, and much more to do with legalizing federal surveillance.

Wyden lambasted Burr and Feinstein for introducing an amendment at the last minute that would remove legal immunity from participating companies if they anonymized information that later turned out to have been related to a crime. Wyden said it would encourage companies to hand over everything non-redacted just in case.

Wyden has introduced amendment number 2621, which would fix this, but it's unclear if he has enough support in the Senate to get it through and into the final legislation.

A visibly angry Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) accused the bill's proponents of dirty tricks. He said he had introduced an amendment to make closing botnets easier, which had cleared the committee stage and had broad support, but was not being presented for a vote for political reasons.

The Senate will continue to debate the bill, although the session has ended for today, and it's likely that a vote will be scheduled soon. Despite threatening to veto CISPA, the first version of this bill, President Obama has signaled he supports the current legislation. ®


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