The latest tech policy debate, over the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA has put Facebook, a supporter of the law, in the web’s crosshairs. For a company that waited until the last-minute possible to take a stance on the Stop Online Piracy Act, and has in general stayed quiet on the legislative front, the backlash from the Web can’t be comfortable.
Demand Progress has been circling an online petition asking Facebook to withdraw its support from the bill, citing concerns from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology about how the bill would allow online services to share a user’s private information with the government. However, in a blog post Friday Facebook’s Joel Kaplan, Vice President-U.S. Public Policy argues that the legislation and Facebook’s support is far more nuanced:
That said, we recognize that a number of privacy and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the bill – in particular about provisions that enable private companies to voluntarily share cyber threat data with the government. The concern is that companies will share sensitive personal information with the government in the name of protecting cybersecurity. Facebook has no intention of doing this and it is unrelated to the things we liked about HR 3523 in the first place — the additional information it would provide us about specific cyber threats to our systems and users.
Essentially Facebook is asking users to trust it and its intentions with regard to its support of the bill as it goes to the table to negotiate in D.C. There are a lot of issues this entire debate over CISPA brings up, including the one my colleague Derrick Harris covered when he asked if the Web was prepared to fight with nuance. But Facebook’s response also asks citizens to trust that a corporation and lawmakers can together find common ground that will protect users’ privacy and still let Facebook retain the advantage knowing about security threats via CISPA.
It’s a PR campaign of course –aimed at those reading about the petition and outcry — and one that blatantly assumes that the power in government doesn’t rest with individuals and their power to sway Congress, but individuals and their power to sway corporate interests. That’s a cynical view, but things like the Occupy movement and these online petitions suggest that cynics have decided activism done hand-in-hand with corporate backing is better than activism alone.