Congress Pushes Cyber-Surveillance Bills

It’s been almost two years since whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the world how the NSA was abusing its authority. Now Congress is pushing hard to pass so-called cybersecurity legislation.

Proponents claim these bills simply enhance cybersecurity, but they actually violate our privacy and civil liberties without guaranteeing to make us any more secure. In reality they’re cyber-surveillance bills.

The two most prominent bills circulating right now are from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees: the Protecting Cyber Networks Act (PCNA) and the Cyber Information Sharing Act (CISA), respectively. Both bills authorize private companies to hand over massive amounts of our personal information to a variety of government agencies, including the FBI and the NSA.

We’ve seen these efforts before in the fight around the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which has been reintroduced. Like CISPA, these new congressional efforts undermine hard-fought privacy laws by giving companies like Facebook and Microsoft protection from legal liability when they give the federal government our sensitive online data.

CISA and PCNA promote the sharing of our personal information among companies and government agencies. Companies will be permitted to share vaguely defined “cyber-threat indicators” directly with the NSA. Government entities that come across any of these indicators will be required to share them with intelligence agencies, without withholding any identifying personal information. And every branch of government — federal, state, local — will be allowed to use this data for unrelated investigations. 

To top it all off, CISA and PCNA allow companies to use “defensive measures” against what they judge to be cybersecurity threats, even when these measures would otherwise be illegal under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. These defensive measures would allow unauthorized access to computer systems of innocent third parties. This could cause unintentional harm, and would undermine Internet security rather than enhance it.

Internet users have united to stop dangerous legislation in the past. Together we’ve killed an alphabet soup of bad bills: SOPA, PIPA and CISPA. We’ve also won strong Net Neutrality rules despite opposition from some of the most influential companies in Washington.

But the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. To defeat these new surveillance bills — and any others that come along — we’ll have to show legislators that we won't stand by and watch our privacy get signed away.

Public pressure made President Obama vow to veto CISPA if it reached his desk. It was a move that stopped the legislation in its tracks. And now we need him to stand up for our rights again.

Sign our petition asking President Obama to veto any bill that would compromise our privacy in the name of cybersecurity. Write, call and email your members of Congress and urge them to vote against this kind of legislation. But whatever you do, don’t stay silent.