Just because SOPA and PIPA, the infamous internet "kill switch" bills, are largely dead does not mean the threat to internet free speech has become any less serious. TheCyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act(CISPA), also known as H.R. 3523, is the latest mutation of these internet censorship and spying bills to hit the U.S. Congress — and unless the American people speak up now to stop it, CISPA could lead to far worse repercussions for online free speech than SOPA or PIPA ever would have.
CNET, the popular technology news website that was among many others who spoke up against SOPA and PIPA earlier in the year, is also one of many now sounding the alarm about CISPA, which was authored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). Though the bill’s promoters are marketing it as being nothing like SOPA or PIPA, CISPA is exactly like those bills, except worse.
What CISPA will do, if passed, is remove all the legal barriers that currently stop internet service providers, government agencies, and others from arbitrarily spying on internet users. In the name of "cybersecurity," a term that is undefined in the bill, CISPA will essentially allow internet users to be surveilled by the government without probable cause or a search warrant, which is a clear violation of users’ constitutional civil liberties.
Additionally, it will allow websites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to intercept emails, text messages, and other private information that might be considered a threat to "cybersecurity." The government can then demand access to this information, even if it has nothing to do with copyright infringement, which is one of the excuses being used for why such a bill is needed in the first place.
Internet users are already required to abide by the same laws as everyone else
"Just because you commit a crime on the internet doesn’t immunize you from liability just because it’s on the internet," said Kendall Burman from theCenter for Democracy & Technology, an internet freedom of speech advocacy group, toRussia Today(RT) in a recent interview. "Law enforcement has many tools to go after crimes that are committed anywhere, including the internet."
And Burman is right. Contrary to what former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and others have inferred about the internet being an unregulated "free for all," internet users are already required to abide by the same rules as everyone else. And those who commit crimes online are subject to the same legal obligations as those who commit them offline.
"When you talk about using information that the government receives that’s purportedly for the purpose of protecting cybersecurity, and you’re using it for law enforcement purposes or national security purposes that don’t have anything to do with cybersecurity, well law enforcement has tools already to go after those crimes," added Burman. "And we very much fear that the information sharing machine that’s related to cybersecurity could very much become a backdoor wiretap or a surveillance program by another name."