April 24, 2012

Facebook supports the new SOPA


A new bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA), is re-igniting the fight SOPA started.  This time, however, there are new and worrying battlelines.

According to Dan Rowinski of Read Write Web,

“CISPA is different from SOPA and PIPA in that it’s not primarily about piracy or privacy issues. Instead, it’s intended to help fight cyber attacks…

CISPA would amend a current law that defines how cyber threat intelligence information is used between the U.S. intelligence community and the private sector. Currently, that’s often difficult or prohibited. CISPA would remove that firewall.

It would be a two-way street, where the intelligence community could give private entities information (with proper security clearance) and would allow companies to voluntarily share information with the government. The bill does not say that companies must share information with the government.”

Privacy advocates are concerned about the language of the bill.  There is considerable vagueness to terms defined as “Cybersecurity Provider: “A non-governmental entity that provides goods or services intended to be used for cybersecurity purposes.”

As Rowinski points out,

“A Facebook status update was never “intended” to be used for cybersecurity purposes. Yet, under this law, a Facebook status update could be seen in a variety of ways.”

Such legal concerns are more than a red flag.  Yet the bigger concern here is that, unlike the successful protest against SOPA, to date more than 28 technology corporations, including Facebook, Microsoft, Intel and Verizon have all signed a letter of approval of The Bill.

Joe Kaplan, Vice President of U.S. Public Policy at Facebook defended the company’s policy on their blog, saying

“We recognize that a number of privacy and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the bill – in particular about provisions that enable private companies to voluntarily share cyber threat data with the government. The concern is that companies will share sensitive personal information with the government in the name of protecting cybersecurity. Facebook has no intention of doing this and it is unrelated to the things we liked about HR 3523 in the first place — the additional information it would provide us about specific cyber threats to our systems and users.”

In fact, Kaplan fails to address that CISPA gives Facebook the power to actively monitor all private communications, including email and private Facebook messages, to protect its system against cyber threats.

The issue here is the emerging division between tech companies such as Facebook, and the people that use them.  For a company whose intrinsic value is generated by the vast and unpaid contribution of its users, Facebook does little to reassure its members that their data will be protected.

It is a worrying sign in the continued fight against censorship and surveillance, that the tech giants are so willing to sign on and divulge the data of their users.

Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.