At a time when many Americans stress a need for across-the-aisle partnership in Congress, a major piece of legislation passed the House of Representatives Thursday with bipartisan support. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act is a proposed law designed to permit sharing of Internet traffic information between the government and technology and manufacturing companies. It is intended to help the federal government investigate and reduce cyber threats by ensuring the security of online networks.
The bill passed the House 288 to 127 with support from both parties, but it is likely it will die in the Senate.
Wanting to ensure Internet safety is a noble, worthwhile goal, but the ends don’t always justify the means. This bill needs examination as to how it relates to issues of privacy and intellectual property. Critics of the bill believe it allows governments and businesses to partner in monitoring and possibly censoring Internet activity. These concerns should be of the utmost concern.
College students in particular may recall these concerns when they were first raised about a year ago.
On April 26, 2012, CISPA passed the House the first time, 248 to 168, and then failed to pass in the Senate. Just months earlier, in January, Wikipedia, Reddit and thousands of other websites blacked out their services in order to make a statement against similar legislation – the Stop Online Privacy Act and the PROTECT IP Act. Students who previously had never taken much interest in politics saw the blackout firsthand while surfing the Internet and suddenly took a vested interest in Internet privacy.
Once issues start to seep into our personal lives, they feel more relevant. It is easy to say that there is no problem with CISPA because of a “I have nothing to hide online” mentality, but thinking in these terms only walks us further down a slippery slope that narrowly tailors our rights toward state interests.
The USA PATRIOT Act is often regarded with the same apathy that CISPA has received. That bill, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2001 by a margin of 357 to 66 in the House and 98 to 1 in the Senate, allowed for roving wiretaps, searches of business records and expanded surveillance of terror suspects. This was done in the name of fighting terrorism, another worthwhile goal, but the slippery slope exists there, too. Even if people thought, “it doesn’t affect me directly” or “I have nothing to hide,” the precedent was set, and privacy remains a conversation begging to be had.
Barrett McCormick, a professor in the political science department, said he believes the CISPA issues come down to evaluating the trade-off of privacy for security, much like with the PATRIOT Act. This could be of particular concern to college students, considering how broad and extensive our Internet usage is.
“I think that the basic issue is how much privacy can we expect for our online lives, and what is a reasonable trade-off between privacy and national security?” McCormick said in an email. “This is of particular interest to college students because college students typically have lots of personal information stored online in places like Facebook.”
An amendment that would have banned employers from asking for Facebook passwords was voted down 224 to 189 over the weekend.
“CISPA has some legitimate goals – helping to secure computers and networks from malicious hackers, including hackers working for foreign governments – but, according to critics, unnecessarily compromises our privacy rights,” McCormick said.
CISPA’s intentions are legitimate, but it is important to remember that the Internet in many ways is a community. Acquiring information by surfing the web parallels browsing through a library or a store. Many errands are no longer reserved strictly for the offline community – online shopping, from cars to clothes to groceries, is as popular as offline shopping.
We generally want privacy in our everyday, offline activities. That desire should translate fairly easily to our online decisions, even if we do not yet see how it directly affects us.
This issue became relevant to us just a year ago when online hysteria ensued because of CISPA, SOPA and PIPA. Once Wikipedia and Reddit re-emerged, however, panic vanished, and order was restored.
As was the case with the PATRIOT Act, CISPA has the potential to impede on our privacy in new, unforeseeable ways. Even though we may not see how this legislation affects us directly, the apathy now will not be excusable when we do feel the effects down the road.