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Cash greases the wheels on the hill

Washington, D.C. was alive yesterday with the squeak of lobbyist cash lubricating Congress to thrust a controversial new law on the American public.  The new bill is on the surface similar to big media's Orwellian SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) (H.R. 3261).  But while a merry brand of citizen activism struck down SOPA and its Senate equivalent -- the "PROTECT IP Act" (PIPA) (S.968) -- in the eleventh hour, this time around there were no massive protests to derail the bill.

I. Cash Pushes CISPA Through

The last time around sponsors like Viacom, Inc. (VIA), Time Warner, Inc. (TWX), and Sony Corp.'s (TYO:6758) movie and music subsidiaries paid a whopping $86M USD (source: Maplight) to active Senators alone over the last six-year cycle, only to see their carefully laid plans dashed when the PROTECT IP Act.

With the defeat of PIPA, big media moved on, partnering with internet service providers to police file sharers via "six strikes" systems.  

But a new coalition of special interests, which include America's two largest cellular service providers AT&T, Inc. (T) and Verizon Wireless -- jointly owned by Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc. (LON:VOD) -- as well as two of the nation's largest software firms Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Intel Corp. (INTC), came together to create a similar data grab bill (Microsoft has since renounced its support).  Security firms like Symantec Corp. (SYMC) also backed the bill.

That bill -- the "Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act" (CISPA) (H.R. 3523) -- passed the house by a healthy 288-to-127 margin.
CISPA passage
CISPA passed by a healthy margin (Yeas are dark). [Image Source: GovTrack]

Pushing the bill through was $84M USD in funding from special interest backers (source: Maplight).  With the average cost of a House seat running at a cool $1.44M USD in 2010 (source: OpenSecrets), that represents nearly 13 percent of the total cost of election for the 435 members of Congress.

Bribe under table
CISPA was backed by nearly as much lobbyist cash as SOPA. [Image Source: i-Sight]
 
Perhaps that’s why 92 members of the Democratic minority joined with 196 members of the Republican majority in passing the measure, despite opposition from President Obama (D).

II. Supporters Defend "Voluntary" Warrantless Sharing

The bill in essence will create an open door that allows corporations to voluntarily share citizens’ records with the government without the government issuing warrants.  Some companies find that appealing for a variety of reasons.  First, some may be hoping to snag lucrative contracts to handle that data.  Second, some may view it as protection against large-scale threats like Chinese hackers.  Third, some feel that its language protects them from financial fallout of citizen lawsuits.  

Corporate backers also appreciate that the government isn't trying to force them to share information on threats -- that was a major bone of contention about SOPA.

Sponsor Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) has long said the purpose of CISPA is to protect vital parts of America's connected infrastructure -- like utilities or cellular systems -- from attack from China, Iran, and other hostile foreign internet powers.
In a document "CISPA: Myth v. Fact" [PDF], Rep. Rogers and the bill's other backers defend it, pointing out that the bill limits when the government can collect data -- namely, in response to "cybersecurity threats", to assist in the investigation of violent crimes, or to counter child exploitation.

Rep. Rogers may have a bit of vested interest -- his wife Kristi Clemens Rogers is CEO of Aegis LLC a "security" defense contractor company, who could score lucrative contracts to provide cybersecurity "solutions" to the government under CISPA.  Her company already has a $10B USD contract with the U.S. Department of State.

III. Innocent Bystanders Could be Exposed

To be fair, he's right.  Versus SOPA, the language regarding privacy is seemingly much stronger and the scope of warrantless information passing is seemingly much narrower.  But some argue that even cracking open the door of warrantless surveillance may lead to problems.

That's the position of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The ACLU writes:

[CISPA] would threaten Americans' privacy while immunizing companies from any liability should that cyberinformation-sharing cause harm.

One scenario that the bill could lead to trouble is if a public/shared connection or an infected citizen computer is used in an attack.  Under such circumstances, innocent bystanders could have their email or browsing history seized despite not personally committing the crime under investigation.

Search on Google
If a shared connection at a coffee shop is used in an attack, your records could be seized.
[Image Source: Google Images/Unknown]

On Monday Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) slammed the bill, reiterating previous criticism.  In a post he says CISPA represents "the new SOPA", "the latest assault on internet freedom", an "alarming form of corporatism," and a "Big Brother writ large."  

Ron Paul
Rep. Ron Paul blasted CISPA on Monday.  [Image Source: AP]

Rep. Paul did manage to amend the bill to protect firearms and library records from warrantless surveillance.  Rep. Paul abstained from the final vote on the bill, which saw only one of his suggested three amendments made.

IV. Obama Threatens to Veto Bill

The bill now goes on to the Senate.

President Obama (D) has for a second time threatened to veto [PDF] the bill, should it pass the Senate.  On the surface the stand is somewhat puzzling -- the President supported a similar Senate bill (S.2105 [PDF]).  The President has even pushed through measures similar to the bill's language with executive orders.

President Obama
President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. [Image Source: AFP/Getty Images]

One bone of contention appears to be "data cleansing" -- removing information irrelevant to an investigation before passing it to the government.  Writes his office:

…the bill does not require private entities to take reasonable steps to remove irrelevant personal information when sending cybersecurity data to the government or other private sector entities. Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable…for failing to safeguard personal information adequately.

Furthermore, CISPA allows information on internal (domestic) threats to be passed to military and intelligence organizations primarily tasked with the defense of the U.S. against foreign threats, including the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).  President Obama preferred the information to solely be controlled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a domestic security agency.

His office complains:

The Administration supports the longstanding tradition to treat the Internet and cyberspace as civilian spheres…[and] newly authorized information sharing for cybersecurity purposes from the private sector to the government should enter the government through a civilian agency.

Of course the President's DoD appointees recently declared that internet attacks from foreign powers could be construed as an act of war, so this statement is somewhat inconsistent.

Nonetheless, under the threat of veto don't expect the Democratic-controlled Senate to be too eager to quickly take up the issue.  That means that for now only similar executive orders from President Obama will be in place.

Source: House of Representatives



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RE: Natural persons
By drlumen on 4/19/2013 4:20:20 PM , Rating: 2
The owners are a small group of people. Even with public corporations the masses of shareholders are not polled on their viewpoint. The board of directors (BOD), at most, is responsible for hiring lobbyists. For example, a lobbying group representing RIAA, the most would be the BOD for 8(?) companies. So you have ~80 people paying for policy that affect millions of people. How is that fair?

I agree that this law is stupid but given your statement, who would be responsible for determining which laws are stupid? Do you not think that a lobbying group could throw a few millions at the same politicians to get a bill deemed not stupid? So, in this instance, your argument makes no sense.

As to making contributions and lobbying illegal, if there were enough regulations and investigations into the candidates finances then graft could not move more to the shadows - as if it were not already...


RE: Natural persons
By ebakke on 4/20/2013 1:49:56 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
Even with public corporations the masses of shareholders are not polled on their viewpoint.
Of course they aren't. Corporations aren't run by majority vote. That'd be amazingly inefficient. The shareholders choose a group of people to run the company on their behalf. And if you don't like where things are going, you vote for something different or you sell your stake.

quote:
So you have ~80 people paying for policy that affect millions of people. How is that fair?
What? It's not the Board's money. It's the shareholder's money. And I assure you there are more than 80 people who own the companies that make up the RIAA. But even if it were 1, so what? If one guy had 80 kajillion dollars and could pay for the campaigns of every official, I contend that's fine so long as you and I know that we're voting for One Guy's proxy and not an independent thinker.
quote:
I agree that this law is stupid but given your statement, who would be responsible for determining which laws are stupid? Do you not think that a lobbying group could throw a few millions at the same politicians to get a bill deemed not stupid?
My argument is that we need a small, limited federal government that follows the enumerated powers listed in the Constitution. Said differently: "the general welfare clause doesn't mean the feds get to do whatever they want". If Congress can't pass laws that violate this contraint (and if they do, they're struck down by the Supreme Court) then lobbying ceases to be useful for anyone. Why would I spend $1M trying to get Sen Fartsalot elected if all that'll get me is a chance to tell him to ratify/nullify a treaty once a generation? I wouldn't.
quote:
As to making contributions and lobbying illegal, if there were enough regulations and investigations into the candidates finances then graft could not move more to the shadows - as if it were not already...
See, you don't even believe that yourself. We already have rules and they're already skirted. As long as the enormous carrot is left dangling, someone will be willing to pay enormous sums of money to eat it. And even more to keep it kept quiet.


RE: Natural persons
By maugrimtr on 4/22/2013 8:56:49 AM , Rating: 1
It would be easier and fairer (and therefore will never happen) to target the cash. Limit all campaign contribution from individuals to a maximum of say $5000 per person per candidate. The corporations, since they are legally people apparently, must obey the same "potentially affordable" limit as every other US citizen.

Any group of citizens can now outspend a corporation without requiring significant organization or even overwhelming numbers.

This will NEVER happen. Politicians would have far less campaign funds. D.O.A.


RE: Natural persons
By ebakke on 4/22/2013 11:16:14 AM , Rating: 3
It'll never happen, eh? Odd... since it's pretty damn close to that right now: http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/contriblimits.s...

And then after that: we should also limit individuals to 5000 words spoken or written, in favor or in opposition, to a candidate in any given election. And you may only attend 5 rallies in an election cycle. And you are only allowed to consume 5 gallons of gas, per person, per election to get to the polling place. EQUALITY!!


“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls














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