Privacy activists launch online campaign against House cybersecurity bill

A coalition of privacy groups launched an online campaign on Monday against a House cybersecurity bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).

The campaign aims to recreate the backlash that derailed anti-piracy legislation earlier this year.


Groups including the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and Free Press are leading the campaign, which is titled "Stop Cyber Spying."

They are encouraging people to use the hashtags "#CongressTMI" (as in, "too much information") and "#CISPA" on Twitter to draw attention to the bill. The groups also have set up websites to help people contact their representatives in Congress.

The groups have no plans to blackout websites, which was a central feature of the protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in January.

CISPA, which is authored by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), would tear down legal barriers that discourage companies from sharing information about cyberattacks.

The measure has more than 100 co-sponsors and is expected to come to the House floor for a vote during the week of April 23. 

The activists are protesting the bill because they fear it would undermine the privacy of Internet users. They argue the broad language of the bill could lead companies to hand over information unrelated to cyberattacks, including users' names, addresses and Internet activity. 

They are also concerned because the bill would give military spy agencies, such as the National Security Agency, access to the information the companies share with the government.

"We need cybersecurity legislation, not surveillance legislation," Center for Democracy and Technology President Leslie Harris said in a statement. "We've recently seen that when Internet users advocate for their rights, they can have a profound impact on the legislative process; this week, it is up to Internet users to speak up for their privacy rights by asking their Members of Congress to amend CISPA."

The House Intelligence Committee, which approved the bill in December, set up a Twitter account for itself last week and is pushing back against the criticism of the bill.

"Nothing in #CISPA provides any authorities requiring companies to take content off the Internet or to stop access to websites," the committee tweeted on Friday.

The bill's supporters argue that encouraging companies to share information about online threats will help them to protect their systems from attacks. They point out that the bill only allows companies to share information "directly pertaining" to online threats.  

It unlikely that the protests will attract the same level of attention that forced Congress to abandon the anti-piracy bills in January. Major websites such as Google and Wikipedia participated in the anti-piracy protests, but many Web companies, including Facebook, actively support CISPA.