A few months ago, I was somewhat up in arms about the Stop Online Piracy Act, mostly focused on the lack of media coverage of the legislation. I could just as easily go after the media for its similarly nonexistent coverage of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA (which passed the House Friday), but the larger question that needs to be asked here is: what is it going to take for Congress to stop trying to push legislation that does lasting damage to the internet?
CISPA is so vaguely defined in what constitutes a cyberthreat that its implications for privacy on the internet may be a bigger deal than SOPA. The text of the bill, which can be viewed here, defines “cyber threat information” under these parameters:
- a vulnerability of a system or network of a government or private entity
- a threat to the integrity, confidentiality, or availability of a system or network of a government or private entity or any information stored on, processed on, or transiting such a system or network
- efforts to deny access to or degrade, disrupt, or destroy a system or network of a government or private entity
- efforts to gain unauthorized access to a system or network of a government or private entity, including to gain such unauthorized access for the purpose of exfiltrating information stored on, processed on, or transiting a system or network of a government or private entity
Yes, that’s all well and good, but what exactly constitutes a threat to government cybersecurity? The parameters are so poorly-defined it’s almost like Congress is asking internet providers to exploit all the loopholes they can. The implications of this would allow sites like Facebook to hand over personal data, and they would be within their rights to do so.
But people more versed than I in the tech world can handle the nitty-gritty of the legislation. What I’m concerned about here is the fact that we seem to have a legislative branch that, to use a fancy British term, doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about protecting the rights of the individual on the internet. This is a bipartisan concern. Many Democrats and Republicans do not like it when Congress tries to push this kind of internet legislation, and will stand up against people in their own party when they support it.
For example, Congressman Darrell Issa should explain why, after being one of the loudest voices against SOPA, he voted in favor of CISPA when it came before the House a few days ago, and was one of the bill’s co-sponsors. President Obama may have threatened to veto CISPA, but honestly, this is really all about lobbying. Obama was trying to walk the delicate line between appeasing the copyright lobby and the tech lobby over SOPA, and luckily for him, it died in Congress before he had to make a decision on it. But when something like CISPA pops up, the tech industry is suddenly on the side of the government and there is no proper conduit for the people’s outrage.
Yes, for those of you who haven’t heard about this, another reason it’s more concerning than SOPA is that the tech industry actually likes this one, so if any of you were hoping for a Reddit or Wikipedia blackout, you’re shit out of luck this time. But here’s the thing about our Congress: they’re supposed to represent our interests. And people who normally disagree on the fundamentals of government involvement in people’s lives have come together to say “Listen to the people and reject this nonsense.” But with companies like Facebook on the government’s side here, there’s not really a big incentive for them to make a big show of opposing it like so many of them did with SOPA.
So yes, the media needs to do its job when it comes to important legislation like this, but Congress needs to stop pretending it has the people’s interest at heart when it’s fighting for legislation like this. No one denies that cybersecurity isn’t a real issue, Anonymous is happy to remind us of that every once in a while. But if we’re going to have a government that takes the concerns of the individual seriously before voting on legislation like this, we need to start bringing people into office who 1) can’t be so easily bought off, and 2) actually understand how the internet works.
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