The US Congress has passed a highly controversial cybersecurity bill, despite President Obama's office having said he may veto it.
The purpose of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is to allow the US government and private technology firms to share data on perceived cyberthreats. The bill's many critics say it would remove constitutional privacy safeguards in the context of the internet.
The House of Representatives passed the bill on Thursday, a day ahead of schedule, after adding some new amendments at the last minute.
These included an amendment that lets the government use shared cyberthreat information for the "investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes", the "protection of individuals from the danger of death or physical injury" and the "protection of minors from physical or psychological harm".
Previously, the only two permissible user cases were "cybersecurity" and the "protection of the national security of the United States". However, some of the other amendments introduced additional civil liberties safeguards.
Although CISPA is a US affair, some have pointed out that much of the online world depends on what happens in that country.
"[CISPA] is threatening the rights of people in America, and effectively rights everywhere, because what happens in America tends to affect people all over the world," web inventor Tim Berners-Lee said last week in a Guardian interview. "Even though the SOPA and PIPA acts were stopped by huge public outcry, it's staggering how quickly the US government has come back with a new, different, threat to the rights of its citizens."
[CISPA] is threatening the rights of people in America, and effectively rights everywhere, because what happens in America tends to affect people all over the world. – Tim Berners-Lee
As recently as Wednesday, Barack Obama's office also expressed hostility to CISPA, saying that "his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill" if it were given to him to sign.
"[CISPA] fails to provide authorities to ensure that the nation's core critical infrastructure is protected while repealing important provisions of electronic surveillance law without instituting corresponding privacy, confidentiality, and civil liberties safeguards," Obama's office said (PDF), adding that the bill "effectively treats domestic cybersecurity as an intelligence activity and thus, significantly departs from longstanding efforts to treat the internet and cyberspace as civilian spheres".
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has long opposed CISPA, said on Thursday that it would now take its fight to the Senate, which the bill would have to clear if it were to reach Obama's desk.
"As the Senate takes up the issue of cybersecurity in the coming weeks, civil liberties will be a central issue," EFF lawyer Lee Tien said. "We must do everything within our power to safeguard the privacy rights of individual Internet users and ensure that Congress does not sacrifice those rights in a rush to pass vaguely-worded cybersecurity bills."