Surprise, surprise: House committee to amend CISPA in secret, again

Surprise, surprise: House committee to amend CISPA in secret, again

Summary: As is with most cases, "classified information" — the alternative buzzword for "national security" — is cited as the reason why the controversial "privacy killer" CISPA will be amended in secret. But it's OK; it's only people's privacy at risk here.


Another day, another House Intelligence Committee session held in secret, under the rather convenient excuse that "classified information" might be revealed.

(Original image via CNET)

As was the case last year when members of the committee amended the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) the first time around — the bill, dubbed a "privacy killer" by online activists and privacy groups, will once again be amended in a veil of secrecy. 

According to the committee's spokesperson Susan Phalen (via The Hill), these secret hearings are not uncommon and "sometimes they'll need to bounce into classified information and go closed for a period of time to talk."

She said that in order to keep the flow of the mark-up — where rewrites to proposed legislation are made — the committee cannot suddenly stop, order every person and member of the media out of the chamber, only to be brought back in later once the discussions are back on unclassified territory.

Actually, they could, and probably should. Especially considering how much controversy has stirred over this bill, transparency in this instance might appease at least some of the significant opposition to this highly privacy-infringing bill. 

It comes as more than two dozen civil liberties groups said in a joint letter to committee members [PDF] earlier this week that: "The public has a right to know how Congress is conducting the people’s business, particularly when such important wide-ranging policies are at stake."

CISPA: Say sayonara to your privacy

For those who aren't in the loop, the bill is designed to remove legal barriers preventing companies and firms from sharing information — including personal citizen data from social networking sites and other Web services — with the U.S. government, under the principle that it may help prevent cyber-attacks. 

This means a company like Facebook, Twitter, Google or any other Web or technology giant, such as your cell service provider, would be legally able to hand over vast amounts of data to the U.S. government and its law enforcement — for whatever purpose they deem necessary — and face no legal reprisals.

Naturally, many in the industry welcomed and applauded the move. It would, after all, give them both civil and criminal legal protection. Thankfully, many took the polar opposite approach and saw the massive threat to civil liberties and online privacy.

Facebook, IBM, Intel, Oracle, Verizon and AT&T — among others — supported the bill, but Mozilla, Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and just about every civil liberties and privacy group opposed the bill.

Though the bill passed in in the U.S. House of Representatives first time around, it fell flat on its face when it stalled in the Senate.

Even the Obama administration threatened to veto the bill if it came across the president's desk, following an official response by the White House to a petition that crossed the 100,000 mark.

The commander-in-chief's officials said in a note, quite bluntly: "The Obama administration opposes CISPA." While Obama himself called for "comprehensive cybersecurity legislation," his administration said that "part of what has been communicated to congressional committees is that we want legislation to come with necessary protections for individuals."

A few months later at the 2013 State of the Union address, Obama signed (yet another) executive order — bypassing Congress, which is at such loggerheads that it probably couldn't decide on the color of the hallway carpets — introducing a similar set of rules but with privacy protection fully in mind, to help protect critical national infrastructure from domestic and foreign cyber-attacks.

Now the bill has been reincarnated from the dark depths of the legal hellfire, it's likely that Obama will remain staunch in his anti-CISPA views, with the White House no doubt ready to threaten a veto again.

While there has been no word on when the secret session of the House Intelligence Committee will be, it's expected to be later this month.

Topics: Security, Data Management, Government US, Legal, Privacy

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  • The next time they have a closed door meeting like that

    Can someone padlock the door from the outside and keep those clueless bozos locked inside until they promise to stop messing around with stuff involving science and technology (aka "things beyond their puny comprehension")?
    • Empty Promises

      Better to just padlock the door from the outside with all those clueless bozos locked inside, and throw away the key. And while you're at it, board up the windows, weld the fire doors shut, rip out the phone lines, turn off the power, and encase the place in a faraday cage so they can't use their cells.
  • Intellegence?

    That's the committee that Michelle Bachmann is on.
    The lights are on, but nobodies home.
    • Spelling!

      Your lights are not on either
  • secret government

    The curious thing is that it's expected voters will make legislators accountable, but when the honorables operate in secret, how can there be any possible accountability for their decisions?

    Not to suggest politicians would ever wish to escape accountability, of course. Just sayin'.
  • Cowards

    Just when did the United States cease being "the home of the brave and the land of the free" and start being the "home of the fearful and the land of the cowed" ?
    • The electorate is the stupidest thing under the sun or a rock.

      Sheep man sheep! Not cowed just coward and lazy the best qualities of a voter. No one has the ambition to use their congress people like call or email so they must like the taste of s*** Yea thats the ticket. A big super-sized helping of secret s*** for all! Of course the politicians in America are the boldest baddest in all the Earth unlike the pathetic things that elect them. Why if one wants to go to war you just lie and guess what? WAR booyah!
  • More government insanity

    Somehow every branch of our government has given itself the power to change the rules which apply to them. Even now, they've eliminated so many rights, there is nothing to stand in the way of complete tyranny. Watch for the day they stage another attack on the U.S. and then declare martial law "for our own safety" and demand citizens hand over their weapons. That's their end game and we will become exactly like Germany right before WWII.
    • Not only

      But also in other countries, here in Australia the Firearms laws are already very prohibitive.
      If you don't own above a certain acreage of land or in competition, you cannot own a firearm.
      Semi-automatic weapons can be possessed only by Police or in Queensland you often see signs "Police Enforcement Zone". Use your Constitution America, it will save you if used properly, our "Constitution" is on the side of "Authority" only. We are in deep doodoo here because if we say boo to the wrong people we can face all kinds of strife with no practical redress.
      Is there something in your constitution that allows all this secrecy?
      • And on that note, isn't it ironic that Zack, a citizen of the UK... so concerned about our civil liberties here in the US?
        • Reasonable people...

          ...understand that pernicious practices that become established in one country tend to spread to others.
          John L. Ries
          • Is that an established rule?

            Made up by John L. Ries himself?

      • Constution er ah yea I remember now!

        Oh yea that thing I wiped my a*= on that and flushed it several years ago it seams it was useless after all. No body paid any attention to it at all.
        • what is

          a constution?
    • Wait a minute

      Why would the government need you weapons? Tyranny is a small thing compared to the present condition of mind controlled economic units. Pay you bills or you'll have to sell you guns anyway. Hah NAZI's never had it so good!
  • cat light?

    Great article, Zack, you're really firing on all cylinders lately.

    I'm curious about the graphic you chose, the "cat light." I saw an "anonymous" hacktivist use the reference on twitter, in a context like you'd use the batman reference namely asking for help.

    What's up with this "cat light" thing? Just a nod to the stereotype of the internet being nothing but silly cat videos? Is there a meme here?
  • What Comes Around, Goes Around

    " . . .the bill is designed to remove legal barriers preventing companies and firms from sharing information — including personal citizen data from social networking sites and other Web services — with the U.S. government . . ."

    That's workable. As long as government officials realize this means war! Let the sharing of their and their family's personal data begin!