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Scary “Zombie” Cybersecurity Legislation Lives Again in Senate

With the popularity these days of all things “zombie,” it was inevitable DD supposes that Congress would want to get in on the craze. The legislative proof first went by the killer name “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act,” or CISPA. It first started terror­izing privacy advocates and others who believe in the Fourth Amendment back in 2011 as H.R. 3523.

CISPA was ostensibly designed to allow telecom­munications companies and others in a position to detect cyber threats to share that information with the government in real time without fear of prosecution for violation of privacy protection statutes like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, among others. The bill’s definition of a cyber threat was written so broadly, however, and the bill included so few controls on which other federal state and local law enforcement and other agencies such information could be shared, that ALA and a broad coalition of privacy, civil liberties and internet activist groups successfully banded together to bury CISPA in the Senate even though some helpful amendments (including one by Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan limiting the sharing of library and certain other records) had been adopted before the House passed the bill in April of 2012.

Zombies, of course (even legislative ones) don’t stay buried for long and CISPA was no exception. It clawed its way back to legislative daylight in the current Congress as H.R. 624, which passed the House yet again in April of 2013 … minus the helpful, limiting amendments adopted by a vote of 415-0 in the prior Congress. Once again, ALA teamed up with the likes of the ACLU, Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and many others to put CISPA back in its box in the Senate where key Members pronounced it dead … again … and promised to draft their own bills to address cyber threat sharing and related liability issues. [Cue scary music . . . . . .]

Well, as of June 17, it’s baaaaaaa-ack! Now called the “Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act,” or CISA, a draft bill circulated by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) suffers from essentially the same enormous flaws as the original version of CISPA that first broke ground in the House three years ago. Wasting no time, SSCI held a closed door hearing on the bill last Thursday, just two days after it was made available to privacy advocates and the public, and was slated to meet in secret again to “mark up” and vote on the bill today.  Perhaps in the face of deep and widespread opposition, however, the Committee just announced that it won’t consider CIPA until sometime after Congress’ upcoming July 4 recess.

As before, privacy, civil liberties, libertarian and many other organizations have furnished detailed joint critiques of the new bill to the Senate Intelligence Committee and its professional staff. In two separate but coordinated letters this week (see links below), ALA and many others have urged the Committee to make comprehensive changes to CISA in order to prevent it from effectively nullifying existing federal privacy protection laws and allowing scores of agencies at all levels of government from receiving US citizens’ private electronic communications and other personal records.

With enormous grassroots input from librarians and other concerned citizens, CISPA was killed twice. CISA may require a similar fight before we can safely say “R.I.P” to this latest assault on privacy in the name of national security.

Will you be ready to fight this legi-zombie again when the time comes? Here’s how to help

ALA/Coalition Joint Letters re: CISA 

Letter (pdf) to All Members of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence emphasizing threats to privacy and network neutrality of June 26, 2014 (coordinated by CDT)

Letter (pdf) to All Members of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence re: threats to whistleblowers, privacy and transparency of June 26, 2014 (coordinated by ACLU)

Other Resources

Letter (pdf) opposing CISA to Senate Intelligence Committee leaders by Sunshine in Government Initiative (nine major press organizations) of June 26, 2014

CISA Analysis by New America Foundation Open Technology Institute

CISA Analysis by Center for Democracy and Technology

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Adam Eisgrau

Adam Eisgrau is a former managing director of the Office of Government Relations.

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