When Congress comes back from its five week vacation, the Senate will have to decide what to do with the NSA-reforming USA FREEDOM Act and the CISPA clone called CISA. In many ways, the two bills are directly opposing forces.
Passing USA FREEDOM would be a huge step forward in curbing NSA abuses; passing CISA would immediately undo all that progress, according to several dozen civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press Action Fund, Center for Democracy and Technology, and TechFreedom.
"The Senate cannot seriously consider controversial information-sharing legislation such as CISA without first completing the pressing unfinished business of passing meaningful surveillance reform," the groups wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Reader Mitch McConnell, and senators on the Intelligence, Judiciary, and Homeland Security committees.
There's still time to pass both at this rate, which is the scary thing
I've written extensively about both bills, but, essentially, USA FREEDOM (the Senate's version) would severely cut back on NSA mass surveillance. CISA, meanwhile, would undermine it in a big way, allowing information related to "cyber threats" (which are very broadly defined in the language—a spam message can be considered a threat) to be passed to local law enforcement and the NSA.
"Information would be immediately and automatically disseminated to the NSA and a host of other government agencies," the groups wrote. "CISA also authorizes companies to monitor their customers' activities on their networks and employ a range of dangerous countermeasures that could affect innocent internet users."
This isn't the first time civil liberties groups have spoken out about CISA, of course, but it is the first time that they've linked the two pieces of legislation together.
That's because, in reality, Congress might not have time to get around to both. Congress is out of session for most of October and the first two weeks of November; there's only roughly six more full weeks until the legislative session is completely over.
There's still time to pass both at this rate, which is the scary thing; one has the potential to reign in the NSA, the other will just as easily give them back more power than it had in the first place.