Internet Regulation: CISPA is Back; CFAA to Expand

The bill that had internet privacy activists up-in-arms last year, CISPA, the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act, has been reintroduced in Congress, according to the Daily Caller. The bill will be amended behind closed doors in an attempt to quell opposition from privacy advocates who believe the bill did not put enough limitations on the ability of the government to spy on individual internet users. One of the bill’s sponsors, Mike Rogers, has assured the public that there is nothing to worry about, and even though the bill has not yet been marked up and changed, he claims that:

“It’s clear when you read the bill this is not a surveillance bill, that’s another common misperception. It just is not,” said Rogers. “It does not allow the NSA, or any government agency, to plug in to domestic networks and listen in. That does not happen,” he said.

The ACLU and EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) believe they can generate enough public opposition to the bill to defeat it, and help protect internet users from personal intrusion by the government. But that is not the only attempt to regulate the internet coming to a vote in Congress. The CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984) will be amended to expand the scope of illegal online activity. Already many believe the law has overstepped its bounds by creating arbitrary internet laws which almost everyone is in violation of, and this will only get worse with the new revisions.

Currently the CFAA bans unauthorized access to computers, and was implemented in an attempt to stop people from hacking into government and financial databases in 1984. This is the bill under which Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Demand Progress and Reddit, was charged for downloading millions of academic journals from JSTOR facing possibly 20-35 years in prison, before killing himself earlier this year. The plan to amend the bill includes adding provisions that criminalize accessing information for an impermissible purpose, as well as increasing the penalties for those in violation of the law from a maximum of 5 years per violation, to a max of 20 years in prison per violation. Computer crimes will also be considered a form of racketeering, in order to allow the government to add extra charges to violators.

The Internet Defense League (IDL) and Demand Progress are spearheading an effort to kill the revisions to the CFAA in order to protect internet users from arbitrary laws of which everyone would be in violation, according to the Daily Caller. Think about these revisions as an attempt to give the Justice Department the power that police have to pull you over while driving. We all know there are so many driving laws that it only takes a police officer a few minutes of trailing any car to find some traffic violation, and pull the driver over. The revisions to the CFAA would make browsing the internet a mine-field of arbitrary laws, so that if any government agency wanted to find a violation, it would only be a matter of time before they could charge you.

Various actions that might be considered innocent by every day citizens — such as sharing social media passwords with friends, starting a pseudonymous social media profile, “exaggerating one’s height on a dating site” and visiting sites with age restrictions while underage — could technically be in violation of the law.

These bills are simply attempts by the government to set up arbitrary internet regulations which can be used against anyone the state deems a threat, or an enemy, or even an annoyance. It is laws like these that disreputable government’s love, because they can make anyone into a criminal if they desire. No longer would the DOJ have to actually catch criminals, they could pick out their victims first, and then just wait until they violate one of the many laws in CISPA or the CFAA. These bills are very bad news for anyone who uses the internet, and must be defeated before innocent people end up in jail. Call and write your Representatives in Congress to tell them that you disagree with these bills, and won’t stand for anyone voting away our rights, and internet freedom.

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