What is Cispa, and what does it mean for web users? – Friend or Foe?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

You’ve probably heard some of the buzz about Cispa, a controversial new bill that’s hit the media over the last few days. We’ve put together a quick roundup of the most recent developments, and what it could mean for the future of the internet.

So what is Cispa, and what does it mean for web users?

Otherwise known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, Cispa has been created as a counter-cyber terrorism measure and has just been passed by the US House of Representatives.

You may recognise the name because the act hit the news last April but was thrown out after attracting a huge amount of negative media attention and protest from web users and site owners.

Under Cispa, law enforcers (ie the government, military and police) would have the right to seize user data from websites and access personal information including emails, passwords and other communication and details. It would also mean that the government could pull the plug on any site it wants if it believes there is a risk of cyber terrorism.

Why is it so controversial?

Although there are a lot of supporters who claim the measures are a necessary step to protect against the very real (and very frightening) threat of cyberterrorism, many groups are calling Cispa one of the greatest enemies of the internet. They fear it would be a gateway for governments to have control of people’s web use, removing the freedom to do what you please online – which for many people is the main appeal of the internet. Sensitive information such as health and financial details would not have to be removed from personal data records before they are shared.

…And apparently it’s not just the government who could claim access to user data. A last minute amendment to prevent employers seizing employee social media passwords was blocked on Monday’s vote, which, according to the Huffington Post, means that American citizens will be obliged to surrender their Facebook and Twitter login information if requested by their boss.

Cispa’s critics also argue that the bill would be the equivalent of placing a neon ‘hack me’ sign on the US government’s information hubs and would create a greater security risk than before.

When will it come into effect?

Cispa was backed by a majority of decision makers in the House of Representatives (288 for, 127 against) but must now go before the Senate, where senators may rewrite the bill or approve it in its current form. However it may be thrown out if the White House is not happy – Obama et al have already voiced opposition, saying: “Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable – and not granted immunity – for failing to safeguard personal information adequately”. Many are now saying that the bill has lost momentum due to senator ‘apathy’ as policy makers fire fight other high profile issues currently in the media.

Cispa supporters ‘doxed’

According to reports, members of congress who voted in favour of the bill received a taste of their own medicine after having personal details about them posted online, including phone numbers, salary and other information – not sure if two wrongs make a right here…

Quick look: internet companies for and against Cispa

In support of Cispa: Against Cispa:


What do you think?

Is CISPA a necessary measure to protect against the growing threat of cyber terrorism, or a nail in the coffin of online privacy?