UPDATE: The U.S. Senate has officially approved the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) with a vote of 74 to 21. The Senate voted against four amendments aimed at adding consumer protections, including amendments from Sen. Dean Heller, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Pat Leahy, and Sen. Al Franken.
CISA now heads to a conference committee to align the Senate bill with the House of Representatives version. If approved by the committee the bill would go to President Obama to be signed into law.
Last Thursday, with a vote of 83 to 14, the U.S. Senate approved a set of amendments related to CISA which is designed to allow private companies to easily share threat intelligence with government agencies. Critics of the bill say the provisions will only increase the indiscriminate monitoring of legal activity.
Before the vote, Senator Rand Paul introduced an amendment which would require companies to adhere to their own terms of service with customers. However, this amendment failed after only receiving 32 votes. Senator Paul’s presidential campaign website says that the bill “would transform websites into government spies.”
Following the vote, Senator Ron Wyden, a long-time opponent of CISA, told the Daily Dot, “We think that information sharing can be useful. But … information sharing without robust privacy protections—millions of Americans are going to say that’s a surveillance bill.”
As Truth In Media recently reported, the supposedly “voluntary” aspects of the bill are not voluntary at all and amount to surveillance of private customer information.
“Number one, it’s not voluntary for their customers, millions and millions of customers,” Wyden explained. “And number two, to get the liability protection, the companies have got to say that they didn’t find anything personal and unrelated in a knowing fashion. And that’s going to be a pretty easy bar because they don’t have to do much to look!”
Attempting to pass surveillance measures veiled as “cybersecurity” bills is nothing new. In fact, CISA is seen as the “cousin” of another controversial cybersecurity bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which was defeated by mass opposition in 2012.
Privacy advocates and digital rights groups have been equally vocal in their opposition to CISA. Just days before the vote the Washington Post reported Apple and Dropbox said they did not support the bill. The two companies join Yelp, Reddit, Twitter and the Wikimedia Foundation in their fight against the surveillance bill.
Senator Wyden says the opposition from tech companies has the sponsors of the bill concerned. “I don’t know how many times they kept coming back to the fact that the technology companies really weren’t acting in the interests of the country,” Wyden said. “You saw some of their comments—’There’s no reason for them to be opposed.’ [That] was because they know that these companies are experts in both cyber and privacy. They’re ones that are really knowledgeable about it, and they were opposed to the bill.”
While the bill still has several hurdles to pass before it could become law, privacy advocates and lovers of liberty should keep an eye on the measure as it progresses. It’s time for the free people of the United States, and the world at large, to decide whether or not privacy means anything in 2015.