Online privacy advocates finally got what they’ve been asking for when President Obama yesterday threatened to veto the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) if congress doesn’t amend it to include more protections of privacy and civil liberties. The administration began signalling displeasure with the bill last Thursday when Caitlin Hayden, of the National Security Council, indicated the President might not support the measure as worded, after it was approved by the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.
While that statement didn’t carry a specific veto threat, Hayden was clear in her message that the President wanted to support some form of CISPA, but that the bill did not yet contain enough privacy and civil liberty protections:
“We continue to believe that information sharing improvements are essential to effective legislation, but they must include privacy and civil liberties protections, reinforce the roles of civilian and intelligence agencies, and include targeted liability protections. … Further, we believe the adopted committee amendments reflect a good faith-effort to incorporate some of the Administration’s important substantive concerns, but we do not believe these changes have addressed some outstanding fundamental priorities.”
Yesterday’s “Statement of Administration Policy” issued by the Office of Management and Budget, was very clear that the veto is on the table for possible use if the bill passes as it’s now written:
“The Administration still seeks additional improvements and if the bill, as currently crafted, were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
The administration has issues with the bill in addition to privacy and civil liberty concerns. They would like to see legal cases involving misuse of the law handled by civilian rather than military courts as now stipulated. In addition, they want the exemptions from legal liability the law would give to companies that share information with government agencies to be made much narrower.
The veto threat was openly welcomed by privacy proponents. David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, issued a statement saying:
“As technology changes we must not allow our constitutional protections to be eviscerated. CISPA represents a threat to the freedom of all Americans who believe in the value of the Bill of Rights. We are heartened that President Obama has heard our call and acted in the best interest of the American people.”
CISPA paves the way for the sharing of Internet traffic information between the U.S. government and technology companies such as service providers. The bill’s stated purpose is to aid federal investigations into cyber threats and to ensure the security of networks against cyber attacks. Written into the law are provisions to offer tech companies immunity from legal ramifications when they cooperate with government agencies. The bill is currently scheduled for a vote either today or tomorrow in the House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, we’ve been where we are now before. Last year a similar bill passed the House on April 26, even after the President had threatened a veto, but was not passed by the Senate.