Congress Adds CISA to Omnibus Bill to Get It Passed

Published: December 15, 2015 9:36 PM /


US Senate Building

As previously reported, both the House and the Senate had passed versions of the CISA bill. It is supposed to be a bill to combat security threats by allowing closer cooperation between the government and private tech companies. However it has been criticized by many for lack of privacy protection and being merely a sneaky way to pass another surveillance bill. Since the two versions of the bill are not identical, CISA is now in a harmonizing phase, in order to come up with a final bill that can be passed by both houses.

Now CISA has been added to an end of the year omnibus bill, in order to get it passed more easily. An omnibus bill includes numerous unrelated proposals in a single bill which can be used to pass otherwise unpopular proposals. This particular omnibus bill contains the budget, so it is pretty much guaranteed to pass. In the unlikely event it is not passed it will shut down the government. Unless CISA is stripped from the bill, it will most likely be passed into law.

There are also reports that changes are being made to the text of the bill during the harmonizing process, which remove what little privacy protections actually existed. Originally all information that was being shared with the government by the tech companies would be shared with the DHS, who was responsible for scrubbing any personal information that was not relevant to a cybersecurity threat. While this was less than ideal, at least there was some minimal attempt to protect privacy. However the new version allows information to be shared directly with agencies like the NSA without going through the DHS first. And any scrubbing of personal information is at the discretion of the agency that gets the data.

The bill also removes language that requires the data to only be used for cybersecurity, so agencies are free to use the data gathered to investigate other crimes as well. The DEA in particular is notorious for abusing mass surveillance to investigate drug crimes, and they will likely abuse this law as well.

Fight for the Future has called on Obama to veto the bill stating, "Now is when we’ll find out whether President Obama really cares about the Internet and freedom of speech, or whether he’s happy to roll over and allow technologically illiterate members of Congress break the Internet in the name of cybersecurity." The organization also referenced Obama's promise to veto any information sharing bill that did not have adequate privacy protections. However, it remains doubtful that Obama would be willing to trigger a government shut down by vetoing the omnibus bill.

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I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.