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Outcry over PRISM spying delays CISPA and other cyber bills from moving forward

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Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX)
Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX)

US lawmakers have been trying for the past two years to pass new bills that would set up information sharing programs between tech companies and the government. But those bills, including the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), look like they will be spending even more time in legislative limbo. Bloomberg news reports today that House and Senate lawmakers are holding back on introducing their own versions of CISPA or similar cyber information sharing legislation till at least this fall, due primarily to the public outcry following the revelations of the NSA's secret internet spying program PRISM and its surveillance of millions of personal phone records.

"probably couldn’t have come at a worse time."

The revelations of the NSA's surveillance programs, which occurred in early June through leaked documents published in the Guardian, "probably couldn’t have come at a worse time," for Senate cyber bill prospects, as Congressman Mike McCaul (R-TX) told Bloomberg. McCaul, a backer of CISPA who in 2012 also tried to introduce another separate bill that would increase funding for training government cybersecurity specialists, is just one of several lawmakers who is delaying introducing new bill proposals because they are worried there is no public appetite for expanding government cyber programs in the wake of the NSA leaks. McCaul's new bill, which he said he's not going to bring up until autumn at the earliest, would allow companies to share information with the Department of Homeland Security. One former NSA lawyer went so far as to tell Bloomberg that the issue of cyber security has "become a radioactive fallout zone for a while in terms of new legislation."

Meanwhile, when it comes to CISPA, the prospects for that bill moving forward seem worse than before. The House passed the bill in April despite a veto threat from the White House, but as with any new bill, it needs to pass the Senate and get a presidential signature, too, to become law. The Senate previously expressed misgivings about passing its own version of CISPA, and the bill was widely criticized by US privacy advocacy groups for containing broad language that would seem to allow companies to hand over personal user data to the government without express permission. Bloomberg now reports that Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), intends to introduce a Senate version of CISPA that would contain more transparency for users and more liability for companies that don't protect user privacy when sharing information, but did not say when. Feinstein has also been an outspoken defender of PRISM and other NSA surveillance efforts.