Privacy advocates are standing up to oppose a bill before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee that would grant more powers to corporations for sharing customer data among themselves and, if the bill survives the committee process whole, the government.
Not only is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) a potential legal tool for companies and law enforcement agencies to pass citizens’ private information back and forth; it’s also a piece of legislation the Intelligence Committee doesn’t want to discuss in front of the public as it considers additions.
According to a report at The Hill, the committee is closing the doors on media and the general public when it begins marking up the bill next week, and it won’t allow the proceedings to be streamed on the Internet.
A committee spokesperson deflected criticism, saying the move will expedite the process, that there’s a lot of confidential information that could get out and that the committee did the same thing last year anyway, in similar discussions.
But critics say these are exactly the kind of talks that should be open to the public, because they involve lawmakers trading thoughts over how to craft a bill that one opponent describes as a “backdoor wiretap” on warrantless private data searches.
More than 40 organizations implored the Intelligence Committee to hold open-door talks when CISPA comes up next week, publicizing a letter sent out to committee members Wednesday. The letter asserted that the public “has a right to know how Congress is conducting the people’s business, particularly when such important wide-ranging policies are at stake”:
All Congressional committee hearings and votes should be conducted in accordance with our country’s highest principles of transparency and openness and made accessible to the public…The general rule should be open government.
As you know, it is the practice of most other committees not only to open their markups, but also to webcast them and share the text of the legislation in advance of voting. Closure of the entire markup is unwarranted.
Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Intelligence Committee chairman, is sponsoring the bill. A copy of the draft — minus, of course, any amendments to come out of the closed-door revisions next week — can be found here.