ArtsWatch: Is CISPA Another SOPA?

Efforts to trounce House cybersecurity bill mimic shutdown of rogue website legislation
April 23, 2012 -- 6:01 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

In recent news ...

Although the issue of privacy raises different concerns than the issue of piracy, consumer advocates and Internet activists have jumped on a pending cybersecurity bill using the playbook they developed to stymie the Stop Online Piracy Act, with similar results so far. This time the target is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, H.R. 3523. Introduced Nov. 30, 2011, by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the bill's aim is to enable information about cyber threats to be quickly and properly shared between public and private computer network operators. As with SOPA, the crux of Internet freedom activists' complaints is that broad language in the bill could be misapplied with unintended consequences, overregulating Internet innovation and trampling on users' privacy and other rights. For CISPA specifically, activists worried that it granted antipiracy enforcement a loophole to share any user data branded with the intellectual property theft label. Similarities to the SOPA case include:

  • Leading advocacy groups raising the alarm: American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Reporters Without Borders, and many more.
  • The timing of the movement's call to arms: What some dubbed "Cybersecurity Week" in the House of Representatives begins today, and a vote is expected sometime this week on H.R. 3523. Last week activists launched what they called "Stop Cyber Spying Week" to ramp up pressure and forestall passage of the bill.
  • A less controversial Senate bill: When Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced S. 2105, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, in February, critics attacked it for advocating an "Internet kill switch." Since that provision was removed, privacy advocates have remained opposed but less active.
  • Attacking supporters' statistics: Dinei Florencio and Cormac Herley of Microsoft Research authored a paper debunking the methodologies used to produce leading cybercrime estimates and publicized their findings in an April 14 The New York Times op-ed piece titled "The Cybercrime Wave That Wasn't."
  • Backlash against companies who support the bill: Facebook's support for CISPA made it the target of a pressure campaign from Demand Progress.
  • White House general criticism along with commitment to consumer rights: On April 17 National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, "Information-sharing provisions must include robust safeguards to preserve the privacy and civil liberties of our citizens. Legislation without new authorities to address our nation's critical infrastructure vulnerabilities, or legislation that would sacrifice the privacy of our citizens in the name of security, will not meet our nation's urgent needs."
  • Last-minute changes to placate opponents: On April 16 a third revision of CISPA was released, again failing to quiet the bill's critics. Wording that raised fears of aggressive antipiracy enforcement had been removed, although consumer advocates remained worried whether this made any difference given the bill's broad language. Regardless of specific changes, what was most troubling to the activists remained the greater ease with which their private Internet activity could be shared with other companies and the government without strict privacy protections or corporate legal accountability.

The main differences between CISPA and SOPA are the urgency of national cybersecurity risks and the potential need for a swift, effective response. Telecommunications groups have expressed concern that legislative solutions must take special care to make things better and not worse, since some unregulated information-sharing is already in place. While the flavor of rabble-rousing Internet activism can seem less than serious, these groups' real worries deserve attention and their popular pressure cannot be ignored. U.S. legislation supported the creation of the Internet and beneficial approaches must be found for legislative updates, including foreign rogue website legislation.

On April 16 the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration announced the arrests of eight Internet narcotics traffickers, six residing in different U.S. states and two abroad, who thought they had successfully concealed their activities by using online anonymity software the Tor Project. DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Briane M. Grey said, "The drug trafficking organization ... [was] trying to hide their activities through the use of advanced anonymizing online technology. Today's action should send a clear message to organizations that are using technology to conduct criminal activity that the DEA and our law enforcement partners will track them down and bring them to justice."

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on April 16 to hear the appeal of a first-sale doctrine case in which used textbooks published by John Wiley & Sons were purchased in Thailand and resold in the United States. Previous rulings have not extended the domestic right to resell copyright-protected used merchandise to goods that are sourced or purchased abroad.

On April 13 Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced the appointment of Seattle superior court judge Suzanne M. Barnett as the chief copyright royalty judge of the Copyright Royalty Board, effective May 20. "Judge Barnett's 16 years of experience presiding over a wide variety of trials make her highly qualified to be chief copyright royalty judge," said Billington. "I also extend my gratitude for the dedicated public service of outgoing Chief Judge James Sledge, who has served ably during his six-year term."

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

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