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Why CISPA Is This Year’s Acronym Lightning Rod

It’s becoming an annual pattern: Congress starts moving legislation that would boost federal powers in the digital world without generating much attention around the metaphorical Capitol Hill water cooler, only to find out that the proposal is gaining outsized notice — and outrage — in the real world.

Such was the case last year with legislation that aimed to crack down on Internet piracy, known as SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate. Public anger blossomed so quickly and furiously that both bills were shelved without a vote.

This year’s bill has a different aim — to help federal intelligence agencies and businesses share information about threats to their computer networks — and goes by a different acronym, CISPA. And, so far, it’s fared better, getting through the House on a wave of bipartisan support almost big enough to override a potential presidential veto.

But that was 10 days ago, and members back home for this week’s recess are already reporting that constituents are raising a fuss about the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. It sometimes even exceeds their interest in talking about immigration, gun control or the sequester. Once again, tea party conservatives and ACLU liberals are united in their shared libertarian anxieties about a big-brother government getting too easy access to personal and financial information.

One of the bill’s authors is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose sprawling Maryland district meanders into the outer-D.C. suburbs. He says he’s been threatened with retaliation by the hacking group  “Anonymous.” That’s why the prospects for the legislation were the topic of my most recent conversation with WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington. You can read about the discussion or listen to it here.

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