CISPA protesters rally, but this Internet blackout may fizzle

Without the endorsement of the big technology firms, protests against CISPA aren't drawing the same support or attention.

If opponents of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) expect an encore Monday of the now legendary Internet blackout that brought down the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) last year, they should scale back those expectations.

That's because--unlike SOPA--CISPA opponents have failed to garner the tech business support needed for a broad Internet blackout. In fact, some of those big name players are supporting CISPA, at least through proxy.

Tech firms support CISPA

In a letter to the leaders of the committee crafting CISPA, TechNet--whose membership includes Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft--praised the panel's work.

"This bill recognizes the need for effective cybersecurity legislation that encourages voluntary, bi-directional, real time sharing of actionable cyberthreat information to protect networks," wrote TechNet President Rey Ramsey to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) and to the ranking Democrat on the panel, C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger of Maryland.

Rogers has been dismissive toward opponents of CISPA, characterizing  some of them as 14-year-olds tweeting in their basements.

TechNet's Ramsey also heaped kudos on Rogers' panel for including provisions in CISPA, which was approved by the House and sent to the Senate last week, to save money for his member companies.

"We commend the Committee for providing liability protections to companies participating in voluntary information-sharing and applaud the Committee's efforts to work with a wide range of stakeholders to address issues such as strengthening privacy protections," he wrote.

Privacy concerns raised

Those privacy protections aren't strong enough in the eyes of many privacy watchdogs, which is why the hacktivist collective Anonymous is calling for an Internet blackout Monday (#CISPABlackout) to protest the passage of CISPA.

"CISPA allows companies to share data they determine to be cyber threat information notwithstanding any other provision of law," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a letter PDF sent to members of Congress on April 15. "Because the longstanding privacy laws that now protect personally identifiable information (PII) would no longer apply, and CISPA itself does not require companies to extract it before they distribute data, companies would be able to share it with each other and the government."

The ACLU warns that "this information could include the content of communications, email addresses, location data, contact information or Internet use records and could reflect intensely private information like what people read, where they go, how they worship, the political organizations they belong to, their health and financial status and more."

Another group opposed to CISPA, Free Press, vowed to remind Congress "that they represent us--not big tech companies and not federal spy agencies--and they have an obligation to protect our right to speak online."

Not supported like SOPA

However, it was the support of those big tech companies--and their deep pockets--that turned the tide against SOPA last year and made the blackout against that bill so effective.

"From a civil liberties perspective, the [CISPA] is far more worrying than SOPA, and some of the same digital rights groups are against it," wrote Robert Levine last year for Fast Company. "But the subject hasn't generated nearly as much controversy, at least in part because Facebook supports it and Google is said to do so."

Those words are as true today as when Levine first wrote them. And they're the reason Monday's blackout will barely be noticed by most Internet users.

Fortunately, CISPA's success isn't pegged to any Internet blackouts. It still has to pass the Senate, where it faces a rockier road than the autobahn it faced in the House.

In addition to Senate opposition, CISPA opponents have another hold card in their hand. President Obama has promised to veto CISPA if it makes it to his desk in the same form that it left the House.