SOPA and PIPA’s new face threatens civil liberties

By Mohamed Abdelati, Operations Coordinator

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The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act were considered dead at the House of Representatives in January 2012. The public saw this as a major victory in protecting the rights of every Internet user in the world. SOPA and PIPA essentially set no limits as to how violators of the act would be prosecuted.  After all the debates and “blackouts” many websites took part in to protest the acts, the House of Representatives decided to drop the bills. This was considered the end of these intrusive bills; until the House introduced the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.

The new bill, CISPA, is the next threat to the civil liberties of everyone who uses the Internet. CISPA has nearly the same threats to privacy that were introduced in SOPA/PIPA, but even more. The regulations that CISPA includes far outreach the government’s capabilities and directly infringes on the fundamental rights of all American citizens. CISPA would allow any Internet users to be spied on by the government without any search warrant or even probable cause. This is a direct violation of every user’s Constitutional rights.

According to the Center for Democracy and Technology, CISPA has a very broad, almost unlimited definition of the information that can be shared with government agencies and it supersedes all other privacy laws. It is likely to lead to expansion of the government’s role in the monitoring of private communications and shift control of government cybersecurity efforts from civilian agencies to the military. The confiscated information is shared with the government where it wouldn’t have to be used for cybersecurity, but could instead be used for other purposes.

Examples of how CISPA would affect Internet users include situations in which the government would mandate web companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to intercept any email, text message, picture or file that is considered a “cyber security threat.” CISPA would also allow for the government to spy on American citizens for any reason, or no reason, whatsoever. Even more unsettling, Internet providers would be forced to disclose every website the user has ever visited and disclose all sorts of personal information, such as bank account numbers and passwords to any website. The idea that the fundamental rights and online freedoms of American citizens could be so constricted is an outrage and contradicts the values this country is based on.

The problem with these bills is not just the far-reaching capabilities the government would be able to impose. What many people do not realize is that the government and law enforcement agencies already have the legal capabilities and mechanisms to address any Internet crime. This bill is just an over reach; it would enable the government to strip away more civil liberties than ever before.

So far the Obama administration has come out and openly opposed CISPA. SOPA and PIPA would have passed easily if it wasn’t for the American people and a large number of Internet companies openly opposing it. CISPA can potentially reach the same fate if there is strong opposition from the public. In addition to violating rights of privacy and Internet usage, this bill contributes to a growing trend of bills like the NDAA and PATRIOT Act that also directly threaten civil liberties and strip American citizens of their rights.

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