This article was published on April 17, 2013

TechNet, Microsoft, CISPA: Oh my! The current cybersecurity muddle hearkens to the early days of SOPA

TechNet, Microsoft, CISPA: Oh my! The current cybersecurity muddle hearkens to the early days of SOPA
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

Are Microsoft, Apple, and a number of other technology companies that you know by name in favor of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, better known as CISPA? You wouldn’t know it by viewing the bill’s page listing letters of support from companies and organisations, but that frankly might not mean much.

Today in the House, CISPA sponsor Rep. Rogers cited a letter written by the TechNet group in favor of CISPA as indicative of broad support for the bill among the technology leadership of the United States. For example:

TechNet, you know the very companies that you say are uncomfortable with this, support this bill – uh, the Silicon Valley CEOs support this bill. The people who are in the business of prosperity on the Internet, think this is the right approach.

People on the Internet, you know, if you are a fourteen year old tweeter in the basement, you know, as took my nephew, had to work him over a lot on this bill, because he didn’t understand the mechanics of it.

This is plain: TechNet, which calls itself “the preeminent bipartisan political network of CEOs and Seniors Executives,” is in favor of CISPA. Thus, the companies that are members of TechNet are in favor of it. After all, why have a combined organization to represent and advance your views if you disagree with what is put forth?

The TechNet letter in favor of CISPA is utterly unambiguous:

TechNet, the bipartisan policy and political network of technology CEOs that promotes the growth of the innovation economy, commends you for your work on cybersecurity and writes to express our support of H.R. 624, the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2013.”

So, TechNet, in the name of its members, is in favor of CISPA. And Rep. Rogers, speaking in favor of his bill, cited those same leaders. The question now becomes more interesting: Are they actually in favor of CISPA? Perhaps not, and perhaps yes.

Disappearing Letters

When you compare written letters of support from 2012 CISPA, and 2013 CISPA, you see a few high-profile defections. This is to say that a number of key technology companies that wrote letters in 2012, decided to not do so in 2013. Such as Microsoft and Facebook.

Microsoft, for one, is a member of TechNet, and the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which is also publicly in favor of CISPA. Apple is a member of the the BSA, and TechNet. It hasn’t submitted any formal letters to either bill. In short, we have a muddle, with companies such as Microsoft issuing what may be in fact partial retractions of their support for CISPA, while maintaining functional silent support through other avenues.

Thus, Microsoft can be name-checked in public, implicitly, in favor of CISPA, without the possibility of taking flack for their position. For reference, here’s the most recent Microsoft statement on CISPA:

Microsoft believes that any proposed legislation should facilitate the voluntary sharing of cyber threat information in a manner that allows us to honor the privacy and security promises we make to our customers. Legislation introduced in mid-February reflects important changes resulting from an active, constructive dialogue about a prior version of the bill, and that dialogue must continue.  We look forward to continuing to work with policymakers and others to improve cyber security while protecting consumer privacy.

You’ll note that you could read that as either in favor of CISPA, or not in favor of CISPA. Given that it was a change from the firm’s previously emphatic stance, TNW was inclined to lean in the direction that Microsoft had changed its mind. Perhaps not.

SOPA Again

If this all sounds familiar, it should. During the ribald days of SOPA protests, it became known that Apple, Microsoft, and a grip of other firms were supporting the bill through the Business Software Alliance, while not saying much in public. In short, they were members of a group that was calling for the passage of the bill.

A storm ensued, with the Business Software Alliance losing members, and an eventual retraction of support. We’re in roughly the same boat now, with industry groups speaking loudly in favor for CISPA, providing cover in Congress that will aid its passage in the House, as the individual firms say little.

Here’s a fact: Facebook is a member of TechNet, which is in favor of CISPA. Facebook, however, is not:

We are encouraged by the continued attention of Congress to this important issue and we look forward to working with both the House and the Senate to find a legislative balance that promotes government sharing of cyberthreat information with the private sector while also ensuring the privacy of our users.

Note that Facebook wrote in favor of CISPA in 2012, and did not in 2013. However, TechNet maintains that the company – and directly, its leadership – do.

To be frank, given how difficult this all is to parse, I’m not going to hand out demerits. But I will say that at a minimum, technology companies must do a better job in the future at stating plainly their stances on key policy issues. We should demand that of them.

Top Image Credit: ttarasiuk

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