Many newsworthy topics are on Americans' minds as they watch legislators in Washington hash out their differences over such topics as immigration and budget and spending cuts. One piece of legislation, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), promises to have far-reaching effect. The bill has only passed the House of Representatives thus far and has a long way to go before earning approval of the Senate and the White House; however, the fact that it is being pushed and backed by many begs the question of whether or not this will be the first large piece of legislation leading to a world where the line between the public and private sectors is no longer easily defined.
CISPA is a bill that was introduced last year as a bipartisan effort to be able to target cyber terrorists. The concern is that other countries seeking to harm the United States have now taken to computer hacking as a way to hurt the economy and obtain information. CISPA would allow technology and manufacturing companies to share user information with the government, and vice versa, in the event of a possible national security threat. The National Security Administration would ask for user information from relevant corporations, who would turn it over without due process. The bill would also trump any other privacy laws, making all user information available to the government without the user's consent, or even knowledge.
Many groups, notably the ACLU, have expressed concern that the bill is far too broad. The ACLU claims that CISPA violates the Fourth Amendment since companies would not be required to anonymize the information, and it would be collected by the government without following proper search and seizure processes. (The government would be required to anonymize user information when sharing it with private companies.) The White House also states that the bill will be vetoed unless the vague language concerning privacy is amended before passing through the Senate.
Although this bill has a long way to go before becoming a law, it is well on its way since most large tech companies actually support it, including Microsoft, IBM, and Apple, among others. This is due to the fact that these companies all have to monitor their own users and deal with security threats, which is highly expensive. CISPA would effectively place much of this burden on the government.
While the chief concern of the White House and groups like the ACLU is privacy for Internet users, especially law-abiding citizens, there is another concern possibly being overlooked by those arguing over this bill. CISPA blurs the line between the public and private sectors. So far, private companies would only have to turn over user information willingly, but if CISPA passes, how long will it be before the government makes this transfer of information mandatory in the interest of "national security?"
Although there are laws that regulate parts of private industries for the safety of the American people, CISPA may be one that digs too far into user privacy, possibly leading to complete control by the State. It could also lead to laws enacted within other industries in the interest of anti-terrorism. The fact that it overrides any other privacy act and clause used prior to its passing is a sign that this may be a piece of legislation that cannot be reversed if later found to be too invasive to the privacy of Americans, and it could set us down a road toward a fully government-controlled economy and society.
Readers: Are you worried that the passage of CISPA will overly blur the lines between the public and private sectors?