Lawmakers Cite Boston Bombing, WikiLeaks "Hacking" as Reasons to Pass CISPA

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 19 2013 4:23 PM

Lawmakers Cite Boston Bombing, WikiLeaks "Hacking" as Reasons to Pass CISPA

100628716
Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., is in favor of CISPA

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

North Korean hackers and the Boston bombings might not appear to have much in common. But not according to some American lawmakers, who are using both to justify passing a controversial cybersecurity bill that civil liberties advocates claim “undermines the privacy of millions of Internet users.”

Yesterday, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 288 to 127. The law was first introduced in 2011 and approved last year by the House, though it died in the Senate after an outpouring of opposition from privacy and civil liberties groups. But it has been resurrected and is heading to the Senate for the second time. Predictably, the storm of criticism has also reappeared. Rights groups have consistently raised concerns over how CISPA would allow corporations to pass unanonymized user data to federal government agencies for vaguely defined “cybersecurity” purposes—and be covered by full legal indemnity when doing so.

The ACLU has described CISPA as an “extreme proposal” that “forges new ground.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation says it “would provide a gaping exception to bedrock privacy law.” And even the White House has criticized the bill, earlier this week threatening to veto it unless it is amended to include better privacy and civil liberties safeguards.

Advertisement

But yesterday, when the House was debating the contentious bill, CISPA advocates didn’t seem to be paying attention to any of those issues. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, cited the Boston bombings while arguing for CISPA to be adopted. “In the case of Boston, they were real bombs,” McCaul said, adding that we also need to arm ourselves against “digital bombs. These bombs are on their way.” Similarly apocalyptic statements were made by Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., who made no mention of Boston, though argued that CISPA was needed to stop hackers in countries like Iran and North Korea from crippling American infrastructure and causing the destruction of American jobs. Rep. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., even used the debate to take aim at WikiLeaks, bizarrely claiming CISPA was needed to stop the whistleblowing website from pursuing efforts to “hack into our nation’s power grid.”

In the aftermath of tragic events or amid heightened global tensions, it’s hardly unusual for lawmakers to make emotive appeals in pursuit of new national security powers. Public opinion in the aftermath of a distressing terror attack in particular can sway citizens in favor of handing the authorities more intrusive surveillance powers, as occurred in most Western democracies in the aftermath of 9/11 (the Patriot Act being just one example). In the case of CISPA, however, it is tenuous in the extreme to draw sweeping links between cyberattacks and pressure-cooker bombs tearing through a Boston street, or cyberattacks and WikiLeaks, or cyberattacks and whatever else is agitating U.S. lawmakers on a given day. Exploiting every perceived threat to counter a push for greater CISPA privacy protections is brazenly cynical—and, I’d argue, ultimately doomed to fail.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports on surveillance, security, and civil liberties.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.