Recently, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a closed-door hearing to markup the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA). Mozilla has previously opposed CISA and its predecessor CISPA, and these changes do not alleviate our concerns. Simultaneously, in neighboring Canada, an aggressive counterterrorism bill would introduce similarly problematic surveillance provisions, among other harms.
But first, CISA. While the newly marked up version includes some improvements over the discussion draft circulated earlier this year, the substantive dangers remain. In particular, the bill:
- Is still overbroad in scope, allowing near limitless sharing of private user data for a vague and expansive list of purposes that fall well outside the realm of cybersecurity;
- Continues to require information to be automatically shared with “relevant agencies” including the NSA, which severely limits the power of the Department of Homeland Security (a civilian agency) to oversee information sharing practices and policies;
- Allows for dangerous “defensive measures” (a rebranding of the previous version’s “countermeasures”) which could legitimize and permit “hacking back” in a manner that seriously harms the Internet; and
- Provides blanket immunity for sharing private user information with still insufficient privacy safeguards, denying users both effective protection and remedy.
But the flaws of CISA are more than just the sum of its problematic provisions. The underlying paradigm of information sharing as a means to “detect and respond” or “detect and prevent” cybersecurity attacks lends itself more to advancing surveillance than to improving the security of the Web or its users. The primary threat we face is not a dearth of information shared with or by the government, but rather is often a lack of proactive, common sense security measures.
Moreover, data collected is data at risk, from the government’s failures to secure its own systems to the abuses revealed by the Snowden revelations. Putting more and more information into the hands of the government puts more user data in danger. Nevertheless, after passing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence 14-1, CISA is scheduled to move to the full Senate floor imminently. This is a bad step forward for the future of the open Web.
Meanwhile in Canada, the Canadian Parliament is considering an even more concerning bill, C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015. C-51 is sweeping in scope, including granting Canadian intelligence agencies CSIS and CSE new authority for offensive online attacks, as well as allowing these agencies to obtain significant amounts of information held by the Canadian government. The open-ended internal information-sharing exceptions contained in the bill erode the relationship between individuals and their government by removing the compartmentalization that allows Canadians to provide the government some of their most private information (for census, tax compliance, health services, and a range of other purposes) and trust that that information will be used for only its original purposes. This compartmentalization, currently a requirement of the Privacy Act, will not exist after Bill C-51 comes into force.
The Bill further empowers CSIS to take unspecified and open-ended “measures,” which may include the overt takedown of websites, attacks on Internet infrastructure, introduction of malware, and more all without any judicial oversight. These kinds of attacks on the integrity and availability of the Web make us all less secure.
We hope that both the Canadian Parliament and the U.S. Congress will take the time to hear from users and experts before pushing any further with C-51 and CISA respectively. Both of these bills emphasize nearly unlimited information sharing, without adequate privacy safeguards, and alarmingly provide support for cyberattacks. This is an approach to cybersecurity that only serves to undermine user trust, threaten the openness of the Web, and reduce the security of the Internet and its users. For these reasons, we strongly oppose both C-51 and CISA.
Alishams Hassam wrote on