Anonymous calls for blackout against CISPA; a pity it won't work

We may all wail and gnash our teeth, but without the backing of tech firms, we've lost the case.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
Credit: CNET

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) has passed the U.S. House and is winging its way to the Senate, but not without a fight.

It was the dream of many that the controversial CISPA bill, having fallen before, would lie undisturbed in its grave after being uncerimoniously booted into the box by the enraged online community. However, now having passed the U.S. House with 288-127 in favor, the legislation has numerous privacy advocates and rights groups in uproar.

CISPA allows firms and agencies from the private sector to acquire and search sensitive data relating to U.S. citizens. Blanketed under the guise of using such sharing — without court-ordered warrants — in order to combat cybercrime, data including heath records, banking and online activity could be shared without anonymization.

Other factors to consider are that tech giants including Twitter, Facebook and Google would not be able to protect your privacy, as no legal reprisal could be mounted against such data sharing, and U.S. intelligence agencies would be able to hand over classified information to groups without security clearance.

See also: CISPA passes U.S. House: Death of the Fourth Amendment? | Under CISPA, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, others can't promise to protect your privacy | Chris Wysopal, Veracode: U.S. Government worst at data security | What is CISPA, and what does it mean for you? FAQ

A number of groups and firms have publicly criticized the bill, including digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Mozilla. Over 800,000 people have signed a petition in an attempt to stop CISPA getting as far as it already has in the U.S. government's law process. 

Today, a number of websites have agreed to block themselves voluntarily. A list of websites joining the protest include hacker and Anonymous-based sites, as well as a bunch of Tumblr accounts. Hundreds are joining, but the list is still woefully short of prestigous names and services that would secure at least a passing glance by those with the power to stop the bill going through.


A Stop CISPA group on Facebook has been formed, and hashtags #CISPABlackout and #StopCISPA have trended at various times this morning. It'll be interesting to see if the trends continue to gain traction as the day progresses, but the difference between this and the last 'blackout' is profound.

While a number of well-known websites chose to block themselves in protest to SOPA, 28 large tech companies backed the CISPA bill from the start — IBM and Intel among the bill's fans. When the threat of the Stop Online Piracy Act surfaced, Wikipedia and Reddit blacked out for a day on February 18. Google chose not to completely censor its search results, but did publicly acknowledge its support of the cause, and highlighted the issue on its home page, something that would have brought the bill to light for hundreds of thousands of online users in a single day.

Especially important was when those hunting on Wikipedia for a quick answer to a question found that they could not use the resource. 

As ZDNet's Violet Blue writes, when the CISPA bill first came to light, it was spun to keep it as far away as possible from the blackouts, outrage and public protests that the SOPA legislation fueled. The media was misinformed, legislation wording was vague, tech companies supported it — perhaps wondering how they could capitalize on all that data, just seeing dollar signs — and those paying lip-service attempted to sway attention not to the particulars of the bill itself, but on how cybercrime stemming from other countries had to be stopped.

President Obama talked about how cybercrime was more of a threat than terrorism, and a back-and-forth between the U.S. and China resulted in pointed fingers about which nation was more of a cybercrime menace. If we consider the right to privacy and data protection more important than government whims, perhaps the question is answered in the former.

Bill advocates didn't want another SOPA outrage on their hands, and they may have succeeded. A "Stop CISPA" blackout may gain traction across social media today, but reaction to the bill simply hasn't resulted in the same levels of fury that SOPA did — although in its own way, it is just as much of a threat to citizen rights as the Stop Online Piracy Act. In addition, without public backing by the few large tech names that provide everyday services we rely upon, such as Wikipedia and Google, the bill simply does not gain the exposure that it needs. 

Google is "watching the process closely," but has taken no official stance on the bill. Sadly, industry group Technet — with members including Google and Facebook — supports CISPA. As much as we may rally together and scream about the bill, without these kinds of names to bring it all together and wield power that goes beyond our Twitter rants and rages to inform others, we're fighting a lost battle.

As the bill moves into Congress, perhaps it's already out of our hands, and nothing can be done except hope that President Obama makes good on his threat to refuse to sign the bill if it passes his desk. 

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