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Privacy group calls for a boycott of tech companies supporting CISA

Fahmida Y. Rashid | Sept. 30, 2015
An activist group is on a quixotic campaign to punish tech companies who support the controversial information-sharing bill.

On the surface, the bill seems like a good idea, as it encourages cooperation between government agencies and private tech companies, but privacy groups and security experts were concerned about the bill's broad language, which would allow companies to collect as much data as possible from users in the name of cyber security and share it with the Department of Homeland Security. (A proposed amendment would extend the sharing to include the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service.) The bill also gives the federal government broad latitude to share the data with other federal agencies. Security experts have said there are other alternatives which are better than CISA.

While companies may benefit from the liability protection provided under CISA, supporting the law "is short-sighted," Greer said. It also shows these organizations are backing away from the promises they made in their own privacy policies.

If CISA becomes law, it would be "impossible for us to guarantee our own privacy policy with our users, because Heroku may broadly violate their privacy agreement with us to share information about our users with the government," Greer wrote in his letter to Benioff. 

Fight for the Future is asking Internet users to call Congress to oppose the bill, and also to "create a massive public backlash and make sure that no other companies are willing to betray their users so publicly."

The effort seems a little lopsided, as most of the letter's signatories provide enterprise software. Oracle's customers, no matter how passionate they may be about Internet privacy and security, aren't going to shut down production environments and applications because of the database giant's support for the law. The same goes for Autodesk, Salesforce, Siemens, and Microsoft.

The current campaign echoes the 2012 protests against Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Privacy activists successfully blocked passage of the law because tech companies also opposed the bill. In this case, other than individual Web developers and small startups, large enterprise customers are unlikely to take part in the kind of backlash Fight for the Future is hoping for.

Fight for the Future have been lobbying against the bill for months, alongside other privacy groups such as the CDT and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Back in July, the activist group programmed eight separate phone lines to convert emails sent to and tweets with the hashtag #faxbigbrother to individual faxes which were then sent to all 100 Senators. The fax campaign is still ongoing.

In the end, CISA may not pass, not because of lobbying against the bill, but because Congress ran out of time. The Senate still has to debate CISA's 22 amendments before it can vote on the bill itself. And the clock is ticking, and it's not in CISA's favor.


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