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Tech Giants Drop CISA Support as Controversial Spy Bill Heads for Vote

Following grassroots campaigns, Google, Apple, and other companies come out against government surveillance legislation

Apple and Microsoft are "Team Internet." Verizon and AT&T are "Team NSA." (Photo: nikauforestT/iStockphoto)

Following a number of dedicated grassroots campaigns by consumer rights advocates, technology companies are coming out against the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) as the controversial surveillance bill barrels toward a vote in the U.S. Senate.

Some of the industry titans now publicly opposing CISA are Google, Apple, and Twitter, among other well-known companies, while those who support the bill include Verizon, AT&T, and Cisco.

CISA would allow tech companies to share user data with the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence offices in cases of "cybersecurity threats." Critics say the bill only expands government surveillance powers and guts consumer protections.

Apple publicly came out against CISA on Tuesday as the Senate began gearing up for the vote, citing concerns over privacy and users' rights.

"We don't support the current CISA proposal," Apple said in a statement. "The trust of our customers means everything to us and we don't believe security should come at the expense of their privacy."

Apple's strong stance on the issue earned it a top spot on digital rights group Fight for the Future's "Digital Scorecard," which tracks where tech firms stand in the battle for privacy. Companies that have publicly supported reform for the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and opposed CISA and other legislation that would give governments a backdoor into encrypted devices were named "Team Internet."

Those who did any less were dubbed "Team NSA."

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"People trust these companies with a staggering amount of personal information, and we need ways to hold them accountable to ensure they keep our data safe from both attackers and the government," said Evan Greer, Fight for the Future's campaign director. "It's not enough for companies to employ basic security practices, they need to be actively fighting for their users' basic rights when key policy questions come up. Politicians constantly claim the support of the tech industry when attempting to undermine our privacy, so these companies have a responsibility to fight back."

As Freedom of the Press Foundation co-founder Trevor Timm wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian on Tuesday, CISA is nothing more than "a surveillance bill in disguise." That opposition is coming from the likes of Google and Amazon—no strangers to privacy scandals—shows how bad the bill really is, Timm wrote.

Also in the internet's corner is Dropbox, marking a significant shift for a company that recently added surveillance advocate Condoleezza Rice to its board of directors and which NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden once called "a wannabe PRISM partner" for its anti-privacy policies.

"While it's important for the public and private sector to share relevant data about emerging threats, that type of collaboration should not come at the expense of users' privacy," Amber Cottle, head of Dropbox global public policy and government affairs, said on Tuesday.

Some of the other firms that also got high marks on the Digital Scorecard, including Apple and Microsoft, reversed course after initially giving their support to CISA—which resulted in a massive email campaign, also organized by Fight for the Future, threatening to quit using their products, services, and platforms if the bill went through.

Now the pressure is on Congress, the digital rights group said, and offered a similar warning to lawmakers.

"It's outrageous that Congress is even considering passing a law that would further erode Internet users' privacy and security at a time when both are already so fragile," Greer said. "CISA's supporters have repeatedly claimed that the tech industry needs this legislation, but now nearly every major tech company has come out opposing it, not only because they know it won't stop cyber attacks, but also because it's supremely unpopular with their users."

"Congress should remember that those users are also voters," Greer said.

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