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CISPA Debate Heats Up

Looking for all the world like a remake of the SOPA/PIPA online piracy bill debate, CISPA, the Republican-backed cybersecurity bill being debated in the House Thursday was turning into another example of bipartisan online-targeted legislation -- the bill passed 17-1 out of committee -- facing mounting criticism for the power it gives government and industry.

On the House floor, Democrats and at least one Republican weighed in against the bill for a variety of reasons, including that it provides too few safeguards for personal data, too much liability protection for industry for sharing that information with government and too much government power to use that information to potentially "spy" on its citizens.

While the bill opponents conceded its sponsors had made some improvements, they said there were not nearly enough. It was a case of another bipartisan bill on an issue everyone can generally agree on -- piracy is bad, cybersecurity needs protecting -- running into trouble, although it is still likely to pass the House.  

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the bill should be called the cyber "insecurity bill." He said what the bill does do is allow personal information to be shared with the government with impunity, even if it is not related to cybersecurity, and permits the government to use that info to spy on citizens. What it does not do is require industry to tell the government what it is doing to protect cybersecurity, or even reveal when they have been attacked.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) called the bill a massive government overreach in the name of security, giving secret government agencies information without accountability. Polis said the bill's allowance for information sharing in the interests of "national security" was a broad and undefined category that could lead to the stifling of political speech. Is a Tea Party activist a threat to national security, he asked, or someone advocating communism?

That drew an immediate response from Republican Rep. Rich Nugent, who said that answer, at least was clear, the Tea Party activist was not, the communist clearly was.

Republican Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is a big online privacy advocate, said that unless CISPA were pulled and greater privacy protections were added, he would vote against the bill. He and Markey have teamed on line privacy legislation, and he has historically split with many in his party over that issue.

Even as that debate was raging -- and that was only the debate on how the bill would be voted on, rather that the debate on the bill itself -- online groups critical of the bill were urging their members to weigh in -- again evoking the pushback on PIPPA and SOPA, including a petition asking Facebook to withdraw its support for the bill.

Demand Progress, for example, says that its members have sent more than 200,000 emails and over 15,000 phone calls to the Hill in opposition to CISPA.