In CISPA Fight, Privacy Advocates Stand Alone, Unlike SOPA Debate

Michael McAuliff, The Huffington Post
Lester Lefkowitz | Stone | Getty Images

There's a big difference between the cybersecurity bill that the House will be begin debating Thursday and the online piracy measures that were scuttled earlier this year in an uprising by privacy activists and Internet companies. This time, the activists are on their own.

When companies such as Google and Yahoo waded into that earlier fight over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act, the combined weight of their lobbying dollars and citizen anger brought the bills down.

Now the Cybersecurity Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, known as CISPA, is coming up for congressional votes on Thursday and Friday. It aims to help guard the nation against a cyber strike by removing legal barriers to private companies and public agencies sharing data on threats.

Privacy advocates fear that CISPA would allow reams of personal data to be scooped up by the government and law enforcers without the requirement of a warrant. The White House on Wednesday threatened to veto the bill over such concerns.

At first glance, the debate looks like SOPA II -- until you look at where those big companies stand. They are on the side of the legislation, and they have contributed vastly more money to politicians than the bill's opponents have.

An analysis by Maplight found that campaign contributions from CISPA supporters from July 2009 through June 2011 outweigh those from opponents by about 12 to 1 -- $31.5 million to $2.5 million.

A Huffington Post review of the most recent six months of lobbying disclosures found dozens of reports from interests focused on passing the House cybersecurity bill or its companion in the Senate. Among the lobbying supporters are Google and other white knights of the SOPA fight.

The reason is simple. CISPA protects them, whereas SOPA could have given the government power to shut down just about any website it deemed guilty of a copyright violation.

"These same groups are now either neutral or supporting this one. So do they take off their white hats and put on their black hats for this different measure?" said Jeffrey ErnstFriedman, Maplight's research director. "Where the dollars line up is pretty indicative."

ErnstFriedman noted that there was still time for the bill to be amended in a way that would satisfy privacy advocates, and indeed, bill sponsors have said amendments could solve the privacy issues.

Privacy advocates, however, say none of the amendments to be considered in the floor debates will address the problems of information flowing to the National Security Agency or information being used for non-cybersecurity purposes. They favor a number of alternative measures.

But the deep-pocketed companies are all on the other side of the argument. Those raising privacy concerns, including libraries, consumer advocates and human rights organizations, have far fewer resources to influence a vote.

"Were the lawmakers really listening to the activists [in the SOPA fight], or were they just listening to the dollars?" said ErnstFriedman. "This might show which they were really listening to."