Obama's CISPA privacy surprise

Citing weak civil liberty protections, the White House threatens to veto a cybersecurity bill

Published April 16, 2013 9:52PM (EDT)

          (AP/Susan Walsh)
(AP/Susan Walsh)

It's a sign of just how badly the Obama administration's record on civil liberties is regarded that the first reaction to the news that the White House is threatening to veto the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was a sense of surprise.

CISPA is designed to make it easier for private companies to share information about "cybersecurity" issues -- hacker attacks, Chinese sabotage, etc. --  with government agencies. Under CISPA companies such as Facebook or Microsoft could freely hand over personal information -- emails, texts, news feed postings -- without having to worry about potential negative consequences, including litigation from outraged users. Naturally, CISPA enjoys wide support from by the tech lobby; IBM sent more than 200 executives to Washington this week to push for its passage. The bill also enjoys bipartisan backing. The House of Representatives is set to vote on the bill either Wednesday or Thursday.

But the White House wants stronger protections for privacy and civil liberties, and stated flatly on Tuesday that "if the bill, as currently crafted, were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

The Administration... remains concerned that 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 – and not granted immunity – for failing to safeguard personal information adequately.

Privacy activists are delighted by the news. Even if the House ends up passing the bill as it stands, opposition from the White House could doom the legislation's chances of being taken up in the Senate -- a replay of what happened last year, when an earlier version of CISPA failed to become law.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Barack Obama Cispa Cybersecurity Obama Privacy Tech Lobby