With CISPA Congress Tries (Again) to Limit Cyber Freedom

ByRachael Bolte

Two events that have the potential to shape the future of the internet went relatively unmarked in the media. The first event was the recommendation by the leading rapporteur of the European Union parliament that parliament members should not vote to sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The second event was the introduction of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in Congress. The confrontations over internet security are just beginning, and we, as denizens of the cyber domain, need to be aware of the potential restrictions of that may be placed on our activity.

The news that the European Union may choose to reject ACTA is a huge blow to the treaty whose aim is the enforcement of intellectual property laws online to prevent online piracy. The treaty was negotiated by the United States, the European Union, Canada, Japan and South Korea. The United States trade ambassador, Ronald Kirk, signed the treaty in October 2011. The treaty requires nations to pass legislation to protect intellectual property online and police piracy, and is considered the precursor to legislation in the U.S. like SOPA and PIPA, which caused controversy earlier this year.

The former rapporteur Kader Arif, who led the investigation into ACTA resigned in protest of the legislation. Arif said, "I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament's recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly."

Just weeks after the resignation of the former rapporteur the new rapporteur investigating ACTA, David Martin, released a statement recommending that members of the parliament do not vote for the passage of the treaty. "The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties." 

This recommendation has the potential to render the legislation dead in the water. This could be considered a victory for privacy and freedom on the internet.

Across the Atlantic another confrontation is brewing over internet rights with the introduction of CISPA. Fear not, CISPA is no SOPA that seeks to restrict access to individuals and websites that contain pirated materials. CISPA aims to increase the cyber security of the U.S. by having private companies collect information pertinent to cyber threats and share that information with the government. While I agree that protection from cyber threats is important in an increasingly vast network the vague language of CISPA leaves the door open for abuses.

Personal information is free game under CISPA so your name, address, online activity, and phone number could be collected and shared with the government. Also under CISPA this information is “proprietary” and so consumers do not have the right to know what information is being gathered. Some companies that support the passage of CISPA are Facebook, AT&T, Microsoft, Intel, Verizon, and IBM.

These two pieces of legislation have the potential to shape the future of the internet yet they have attracted little fanfare despite their controversial goals. We take for granted that fact that the internet will be a place of freedom; a place to share and transmit information in an effort to better understand the world. However, we cannot allow our standards to lax. As the confrontations over Internet security begin there will always be individuals who seek to exchange liberty for safety. But as Benjamin Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” 

Vigilance in striking a balance between liberty and security is key.