Internet Freedom – This Affects All Of Us, Man!
The Internet is the most powerful tool in the entire world. In all of its unregulated glory, people around the world come together to share anything they want. This has its arguable pros and cons, but for the most part results in a very rich, worldwide community built around sharing ideas.
However, in the last few years there has been a movement to regulate the Internet, and the US government has been at the forefront of this movement. Perhaps you have heard of the SOPA and CISPA bills? Or maybe you haven’t. They kind of get buried in the news with all the other things going on in the world. Either way, with all of these Internet related acronyms being thrown around, you might not know what they even mean, let alone what they could do to the Internet (and your personal freedoms).
First, there was SOPA – The Stop Online Piracy Act. This legislation was disguised as a way to stop piracy, fight online copy protection, and prevent counterfeit goods from being sold via the Internet. However, the wording of the bill allowed for pretty much anything that was copyrighted and used by someone other than the copyright holder to be stopped and potentially prosecuted in a court of law. When I say anything, I mean anything. If you had a personal sports blog with an awesome shot of Tim Tebow doing his pose, the NFL and Tebow could be on your doorstep the next day with a handful of papers summoning you to court in the near future. Think about it. This law would singlehandedly remove half the content from the Internet. There would be no more videos of 5-year-old prodigies playing Slayer songs on guitar, Internet memes, popular blogs, or fan art of any kind. This bill was worded to take all of them down in one swoop.
Something else to mention is the fact that the founder of this bill, Lamar A. Smith, violated these terms on his own campaign website. He used a copyrighted image as a background for his website, but did not give credit to the photographer, nor did he even get permission to use it. If the founder of this bill could not properly follow the rules, how does he expect the rest of the country to? Luckily, SOPA was stopped before it even got to President Obama’s desk.
Exactly one year after SOPA, congress was at it again. CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, is a proposed law that would act as an addition to the National Security Act of 1947. You might be thinking, especially in light of recent events, that we need more national security. However, this turned out to be a Trojan horse for Internet surveillance.
On the outside, CISPA is crafted to appear like firewall for cyber protection and a safeguard against cyber-terrorism. However, it reaches much further than you might think. If this bill were passed into law, it would give major corporations the authority to hack anyone they wanted in the name of “defense.” I put defense in quotes because the definition was so loosely written that it would allow corporations to do almost anything they wanted. These major corporations would essentially have the unrestricted power and legal backing to do what organizations like Anonymous do illegally, and they could do this solely for their own gain.
The other side to this is that the US government would work hand in hand with many major organizations (mainly cable, phone, and internet providers) to exchange personal records and data. With endorsements and partnerships including AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Verison, McAfee, and even the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the government could quickly learn EVERYTHING about you.
The government could also monitor you based on your Internet activity, even if you do not commit a crime. The simple act of Googling something moderately off color could result in you being instantly monitored for an indefinite period of time. It doesn’t stop there, though. The monitoring goes multiple layers deep, meaning that if you are being monitored then they legally could monitor your friends, your friend’s friends, and even your friend’s friend’s friends. This bill does all this without a warrant, without telling you afterwards, and without providing any protection for the people.
This is not just limited to the FBI or NSA though, other government organizations like the IRS, FEMA, The US Postal Service, and even 4-H could monitor anyone they want. Your 4th Amendment rights would be thrown right out the window. To me, that is absolutely frightening, a blatant first step towards an Orwellian society, and a huge invasion of personal privacy, especially when the vast majority of the country is doing absolutely nothing wrong.
A few months ago, this bill passed in the House by a landslide. However, it quickly died in the Senate. It has recently been brought up again for some reason (even though Congress clearly has better things to do…like passing a budget). Regardless, President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation of this matter that comes across his desk. Still, it is shocking that it even got that far.
SOPA and CISPA could rear their ugly faces again any day now. We all need to be on the look out for these bills. The lobbyists in Washington are pumping millions and millions of dollars into the effort to get these passed. Not only would it completely destroy our basic freedoms and rights to privacy, but also it would just be another step in promoting these super-corporations to be above the law. We, as a nation, have already angered everyone with the spying scandal uncovered by Edward Snowden. This would just add to the fire. Do we really need more protection at the cost of more of our civil liberties? Do we really need protection at the cost of other nations abandoning the American Internet and establishing their own separate version? Think about it, and be on the look out for more to come. I don’t see this issue going away any time soon.