House passes CISPA in surprise vote

The U.S. House of Representatives surprised the tech industry Thursday by voting on, and passing, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) after having originally scheduled a vote for Friday. The bill was amended several times prior to the final vote, most significantly to include a sunset clause.

The revised bill passed by a vote of 248 to 168, with 206 Republicans voting in favor of the bill and 140 Democrats voting against it. Earlier today, we published this FAQ, which examines the issues surrounding the bill and its potential impact on the technology and media industries.

Proponents of the bill have framed it as an “information sharing” measure that is necessary to protect companies from hacking and the country form cyber-attack.

“This is not a perfect bill, but the threat is great,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), said on the House floor on Thursday.

Ruppersberger is one of a handful of key Democrats who are supporting the bill. His words are likely to provide fodder to critics who complain that politicians are once again using fear tactics in an effort to ram through questionable legislation.

While cyber-attacks have been a real issue for companies and government agencies, the CISPA bill contains measures that may be broader than what is needed to do the job. The White House, civil libertarians and Republicans like Ron Paul have said the bill makes it too easy for companies to hand personal data about consumers to the federal government.

The most significant part of the bill is a provision that says “notwithstanding any other provision of law” — this would override a number of laws that have been in place for decades that force companies to safeguard personal information. Under the bill, companies are allowed to pass on data only in a limited number of circumstances — such as cyber-security or child pornography — but critics worry these categories will become broad loopholes.

Today’s surprise vote came after the passage of several last-minute amendments. The most important of these was a sunset clause which means the bill will expire in five years unless it is renewed. The members of the House, however, rejected a number of other amendments that would have provided new privacy protections.

The bill is far from certain to pass the law as it faces White House opposition and must pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.

To learn more, see your plain English FAQ about CISPA.