Privacy groups turn to fax machines in cyber bill fight

Privacy groups turn to fax machines in cyber bill fight
© Greg Nash

Senators this week may get some unexpected activity from a fading technology — the fax machine.

A broad coalition of civil liberties advocates and digital privacy groups have teamed up to create a one-week website — stopcyberspying.com — which lets anyone write up and send a fax to senators. Photos are optional.

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The move is part of the ongoing battle over a stalled cybersecurity bill that may hit the floor sometime later this week. The bill, known as the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), would boost the public-private exchange of data on hackers.

Industry groups and many in Congress believe the enhanced sharing of this type of information is necessary to help the country better understand and counter the growing cyber threat.

But privacy advocates believe the measure would simply create another outlet for the government to collect sensitive data on Americans. The website calls CISA “a surveillance bill in disguise” and “the Darth Vader bill.”

“Congress is stuck in 1984,” the website says. “It doesn’t seem to understand modern technology. So we’re going to communicate with it in a way it’ll understand: With faxes. Thousands and thousands of faxes.”

The House has already passed its complementary legislation and the White House has appeared open to supporting a cyber info-sharing bill, putting all eyes on the Senate.

CISA appears to have a good shot, with significant bipartisan backing. But a growing coalition of privacy-minded senators, led by Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-Ore.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (D-Vt.), is angling to scuttle or amend the bill when it hits the floor.

The congressional coalition shares many of the CISA concerns listed on stopcyberspying.com.

CISA, the website argues, “allows companies to share nearly ANY type of information with the government, including significant amounts of personal information.”

The National Security Agency and FBI would also have automatic access to this information and could use it for reasons beyond cybersecurity, the site says.

And under CISA, it adds, companies would be shielded from lawsuits and regulatory action for any of the information they share with the government.

“CISA is fundamentally flawed because of its aggressive spying powers, broad immunity clauses for companies and vague definitions of key terms,” the website says. “The bill may even make things worse for Internet users.”

Those backing the bill dispute these points.

Proponents argue that all data would be scrubbed of personal information before going to the NSA or FBI and that there are strict limits on their use.

Industry groups have also insisted they need immunity to protect them from excessive shareholder lawsuits and aggressive regulatory action. The data shared may expose proprietary information about a company’s network security, they maintain.

CISA backers have been mounting their own campaign urging Congress to pass the bill, blanketing offices with letters in recent weeks.

A wide range of digital advocates are behind stopcyberspying.com, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and The New America Foundation.