Did You Notice the Online Protest Against CISPA?

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Online protesters forced Congress to back down from the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill they said would invade user privacy. Now Congress is proposing something some say is even worse.

Last year, more than 7,000 websites (including big ones like Wikipedia and Google) protested a piece of anti-piracy legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. The measure ultimately failed.

Now Congress is voting on a new version called CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. The House has already passed it, and the Senate will take it up next.

But as Mother Jones notes, the Internet is not having the same reaction this time.

Only about 500 websites are participating in some form of blackout protest today, and none with nearly as much influence as Google or Wikipedia. (An online petition against the bill has about 170,000 signatures.) What changed?

PCMag.com has a good assessment answering that question. For one thing, the White House has already threatened to veto it. For another, companies including AT&T, Comcast, HP, IBM, Intel, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon all support CISPA because it could save them money.

The bill would allow the government and private companies to share information when there’s a threat of cyber-attack, to potentially prevent it or minimize the damage. But protesters, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say the law’s language is broad enough that consumer emails, text messages, and any files stored online could potentially be shared with the government for “cybersecurity purposes” — bypassing privacy protections created by existing laws.

Amendments to the bill have addressed some, but not all, of the protesters’ complaints. While data passed from the government to companies would include measures to ensure anonymity, the law still wouldn’t require private companies to do the same when passing data to the government. The legislation also would not allow the government to keep consumer data indefinitely for “national security purposes.”

Stacy Johnson

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