The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (henceforth “CISPA”) is the government’s shy way of telling us, “No, our attempts to control the Internet haven’t embarrassed us enough quite yet.” So let me boil it down for you.
Here’s the difference between SOPA and CISPA: SOPA lets the government take down private networks based on suspicion of illegal activity, and CISPA lets the government monitor private networks based on suspicion of illegal activity. The latter is just a less aesthetically-pleasing acronym that the feds hope won’t sound as catchy in profile images.
They’re correct in that aspect. People are much less willing to fight against a bill with the stated purpose of protecting the United States against cyber threats than they are to fight against a bill with the explicit intention of taking away their Game of Thrones torrents, especially when the government’s definition of “cyber threat” contrasts with consensus.
Politicians are typically dumber than the average human being, though, so they assume we don’t see the censorship and privacy invasions present in both circumstances. Intention is moot when accompanied by the same result. So, please, government, let’s not pretend this is about national security.
It’s clear this bill is about one thing and one thing only: intellectual property. And I think we can all agree that infringing on copyright—regardless of your general view on the legitimacy of intellectual property—is far from a threat to the security of our country.
Representative Michael Rogers (R-MI) already seemed hell-bent on taking control of the Internet when he co-sponsored the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, and now he’s back spearheading the CISPA campaign. Though the bill is disguised under national security requirements, Rogers is looking elsewhere. At least he had the integrity of explaining his true priorities about CISPA passing the House, which happened late Friday night.
Let’s take a quotation from his official website:
H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, safeguards U.S. jobs by making it easier to identify and combat cyber threats, which steal over $200 billion in American intellectual property every year.
In other words, the first worry that came into his mind wasn’t that these so-called “cyber threats” were a danger to national security but merely that they’d blow through legislative protectionism and hurt a group of executives who are too lazy to compete for customers.
Ignoring the fact that copyright math is an incomprehensible and unscientific pile of crap, Rogers’ figure of $200 billion isn’t even as drastic as it sounds. Using the US Patent and Trademark Office’s own numbers, intellectual property contributes $5 trillion to the economy per year, meaning $200 billion is only four percent of the entire market share.
And, like I said, the numbers are exaggerated anyway—hardly an economic catastrophe.
The House Intelligence Committee did release alternate versions of CISPA, but it’s important to look at the first draft in order to draw a solid conclusion about the original purpose of the bill. We already understand its sponsor’s focus on intellectual property, and we find exactly the same theme when reading through the first draft of the bill itself.
An early version of CISPA defined its terms in a way parallel to Rogers’, noting two specific features that constitute a cyber threat. The second feature is the most interesting, which explains that the government will be able to use these new powers in situations pertaining to the protection of a system or network from … theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information.
Other amendments seemed to have stripped away these references to intellectual property, but it’s a bit curious they’d be so easily willing to eliminate this important term when such a strong facet of the main politicians’ support for CISPA still rested upon the legislation’s ability to curb intellectual property infringement.
Indeed, the text’s replacement defined cyber threats as efforts to gain unauthorized access to a system or network, including efforts to gain such unauthorized access to steal or misappropriate private or government information.
“Intellectual property” is nowhere to be found in that version, but couldn’t this new passage have been construed in a way to refer to “unauthorized access” into a file-sharing organization? After all, there were legitimate reasons to store legal content on Megaupload, yet the organization in its entirety was taken down by the government, so it’s hard to believe that innocent individuals will not be deemed unofficially guilty-by-association (and thus have their online actions potentially monitored without due process).
Rogers faked interest in these concerns by issuing a statement on the matter:
It has always been my desire to do that in manner that doesn’t sacrifice the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, and I am confident that we have achieved that goal. I appreciate all the constructive input we have received and I look forward to getting the bill passed by the House and signed into law.
Unless he suddenly had an epiphany, this contradicts his thoughts one week ago when he referred to concerns as simple “turbulence on the way down to landing.” You know, voters—the people with whom you’re unfortunately forced to deal until you can ultimately do exactly what you want without any input.
His apathy for public opinion was revealed earlier today when the House Committee on Rules released rules pertaining to the CISPA debate. Mike Masnick at TechDirt writes that the House “basically barred the discussion on all of those key amendments.” As far as I can tell, every reference to intellectual property has been placed back into the bill’s text.
In the end, it’s clear that no politician—especially not Michael Rogers—cares to have an open debate with constituents about the lack of merits in CISPA. The legislation is written by old bureaucrats who don’t understand the first thing about how the Internet works, and I guarantee you that, once again, it’s all about intellectual property (the one non-scarce resource that Congress absolutely despises). Not a single aspect of it provides security to the United States; it is corruption from within, and nothing more.
The White House recently threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate, but, then again, Obama was pretty quick to approve extensions to the Patriot Act and sign the National Defense Authorization Act’s infamous indefinite detention provisions.
We’ll see if he’s bluffing soon enough.