What a frightening thought: save the Internet from the U.S. Yet that is the message of AVAAZ.org (AVAAZ, the group tells us, means “voice” in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages). How did a country that enshrines ideals of privacy and freedom of speech come to be the big bad bully with regards to the Internet?
You remember SOPA, of course. That’s been defeated though not dead. Undead might be a better word, given that it hasn’t quite stopped moving. Look what Chris Dodd (former D-CT), now the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been up to lately, bragging to the Hollywood Reporter that he’s working on an insider deal to push through SOPA-like legislation.
You might remember PIPA, once called “the new SOPA”. The PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA) was introduced on May 12, 2011, by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). But PIPA was only another try at 2010’s COICA, and, of course, 2011’s SOPA. In all these pieces of legislation a glaring problem has been their “broad language.”
Now comes the U.S. House of Representatives and its Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA), otherwise known as H.R. 3523, backed by over 100 members of Congress (twice SOPA’s support). And don’t just blame the Republicans. The bill, unveiled by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee says that it is written “To provide for the sharing of certain cyber threat intelligence and cyber threat information between the intelligence community and cybersecurity entities, and for other purposes.”
Some are calling it the new SOPA (shouldn’t it be new new SOPA?) though the European Union Times calls it “worse than SOPA”. CISPA, which, as AVAAZ says, “would give private companies and the US government the right to spy on any of us at any time for as long as they want without a warrant,” is certainly something to be afraid of.
Nice. They can already strip-search us for violating the leash law. I’m afraid to ask what’s next. But this certainly doesn’t sound like the United States I grew up in. In the U.S. of A I grew up in, authorities needed a warrant. They couldn’t just treat everyone like they were a criminal without due cause (or at least, they weren’t supposed to).
AVAAZ urges us not to take this latest attack lying down: “This is the third time the US Congress has tried to attack our Internet freedom. But we helped beat SOPA, and PIPA — and now we can beat this new Big Brother law.”
CISPA amends the National Security Act of 1947. The result? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) puts it quite bluntly and chillingly: “It effectively creates a ‘cybersecurity’ exemption to all existing laws.”
If that isn’t enough to scare you, perhaps this will. According to EFF:
There are almost no restrictions on what can be collected and how it can be used, provided a company can claim it was motivated by “cybersecurity purposes.” That means a company like Google, Facebook, Twitter, or AT&T could intercept your emails and text messages, send copies to one another and to the government, and modify those communications or prevent them from reaching their destination if it fits into their plan to stop cybersecurity threats.
As EFF puts it, “the stated definition of “cybersecurity” is so broad, it leaves the door open to censor any speech that a company believes would ‘degrade the network.’” CISPA makes it pretty easy to designate you personally a security threat:
(2) CYBER THREAT INTELLIGENCE- The term `cyber threat intelligence’ means information in the possession of an element of the intelligence community directly pertaining to a vulnerability of, or threat to, a system or network of a government or private entity, including information pertaining to the protection of a system or network from–
`(A) efforts to degrade, disrupt, or destroy such system or network; or
`(B) theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information.
Kiss goodbye to anonymous activism. George Orwell in his worst nightmares did not imagine such sweeping ability to access our every private thought and word. Perversely, technology gives us ever greater means of expression our freedom of speech but also gives the government ever greater means of taking those freedoms away.
The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) points out four “main concerns” with the bill:
- The bill has a very broad, almost unlimited definition of the information that can be shared with government agencies notwithstanding privacy and other laws;
- The bill is likely to lead to expansion of the government’s role in the monitoring of private communications as a result of this sharing;
- It is likely to shift control of government cybersecurity efforts from civilian agencies to the military;
- Once the information is shared with the government, it wouldn’t have to be used for cybesecurity, but could instead be used for any purpose that is not specifically prohibited.
Needless to say, CDT opposes the legislation.
Image from the EUTimes