CISPA vs. SOPA: What’s The Difference?

Posted by · April 18, 2012 4:46 pm

Ever since CISPA (formally known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) appeared on the scene and sparked an impressive Twitter-based assault on Capitol Hill, yet another battle has slowly been emerging from within the camp of the opposition. On one side are those who characterize CISPA as another attempt at getting SOPA passed. Names such as “Son of SOPA,” “SOPA’s Evil Twin” and “SOPA Part II” are used to reignite the outrage of those who helped defeat the anti-piracy bill earlier this year. On the other side are those who attest that CISPA is nothing like its legislative predecessor.

And like most arguments of this nature, both sides have valid points for taking the positions that they do. After all, neither side supports the bill. In fact, both speak unequivocally about it being dangerous policy if passed in its current state. However, it is clear that drifting too far to either side causes one to lose perspective not only as it pertains to CISPA but also when it comes to addressing the problem that these bills are alleged to address.

CISPA and SOPA: Distant Relatives?

I wasn’t quite aware of this rift until I came across an op-ed by Wired’s Brock Meeks. Entitled “CISPA Isn’t ‘Son of SOPA’ (But That’s Not Saying Much),” the article goes to considerable lengths to convince readers that the two bills share but one thing in common.

Whatever you have read—or re-tweeted—CISPA is [no] “son of SOPA.” The commonality between the two is that each takes a legitimate problem and tries to tackle it with an extreme solution. SOPA opposition turned on threats to the First Amendment; CISPA is about the Fourth, owing to the potential it creates for unprecedented government monitoring of internet users’ personal online information.

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments t...While I agree completely with his initial assertion that both bills take an “extreme” approach to meeting the very real need of cybersecurity and intellectual property protection, his subsequent attempt to further distinguish these bills takes it a step too far.

Although First Amendment concerns were among those voiced by opponents of SOPA (and PIPA)—specifically the rights of industry and government whistleblowers—another problem with the bill was directly related to due process rights covered by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. In fact, preventing censorship is almost never exclusively in the interest of preserving the First Amendment. Rather, concerns about the suppression of speech march lockstep with the protection of due process.

Taking away one’s right to speak freely before it is shown that s/he hasn’t done anything illegal is not unlike being thrown into jail for murder even if no such act ever took place. In the same manner, inasmuch as SOPA threatened to suppress one’s right to express oneself online by handing punitive power to private entities, the bill would have also undermined one’s right to be “secure in their…effects” and not to be “deprived of…property” before satisfying the requisite legal safeguards by allowing these same entities to unilaterally conclude what should only be decided in a court of law.

Likewise, Meeks’s argument that CISPA is only about the Fourth Amendment belittles the way the bill threatens to thwart constitutional protections enshrined in the First and Fifth Amendments. By allowing “unfettered government access to our personal information, which is then likely to be sucked into the secretive black hole of the spying complex known as the National Security Agency,” as Meeks so eloquently puts it, CISPA does not solely threaten to undermine personal privacy—especially given its proposed primacy over all state and federal privacy law. Rather, by allowing a largely unaccountable government agency to unilaterally label citizens as national security threats, free speech and due process rights are also restricted by default.

In other words, neither one of these bills poses any more or any less of a threat to free speech, privacy, or due process than the other.

Too Close For Comfort

That said, Meeks largely redeems this part of his argument by opposing both bills on the grounds that they’re both extreme. Both are overly broad, wield far too much power, and worst of all, make little to no provision for public accountability.

“CISPA foreshadows a future fraught with dire consequences for our privacy and civil liberties,” writes Meeks.

And I couldn’t agree more. However, SOPA would have done the same thing.

The unaccountable enforcer that looms behind CISPA is the NSA. For SOPA, it would have been ISPs, social networks, and other private that are far too susceptible to their own interests to be truly impartial enforcers. Clearly one is more threatening. I mean, I would much rather my personal website be cut off by my ISP for some elusory reason than deal with the far more odious ramifications of being labeled a threat to national security without my knowledge. But these bills are hardly dissimilar.

In fact, instead of “Son of SOPA” or “SOPA’s Evil Twin,” perhaps a more appropriate metaphor for CISPA should be “SOPA on Steroids.”

For more CISPA coverage . . .