Daniel Komenich, Tongue-Tied from the series Signal-Speech / Transfer-Talk
THE NEWEST THREAT TO YOUR INTERNET
The U.S. Congress is currently considering legislation that, if passed, could destroy the free and open internet, our most prominent democratic medium. In a 248 to 168 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) on Thursday, April 26, 2012. CISPA is a bill that has significant privacy implications for internet users, and if passed by the Senate, will become a law in the near future. Written by Representatives Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, the goal of the bill is to help detect and defend the United States against serious cyberthreats. CISPA would allow companies to access electronic communication data and read your e-mails, monitor the sites you visit and inspect the files you download. Because a “cyber threat” is defined so broadly, any collected information could be transferred to U.S. government agencies and used for investigations and persecutions. This bill would allow private companies to use executive power to protect their personal interests, at the expense of the civil liberties guaranteed by the constitution. WeOwnThis.net launched this Spring, a campaign that has sparked widespread backlash to CISPA that is spreading like wildfire across the internet. Formed by activist students at the University of California at Davis, the campaign seeks to inform everyone of the critical importance of our freedom on the internet. Founders Alyssa Murray, Randall Hom and Christian Bergstrom united to form this movement upon realizing the threat of cybersecurity bills such as SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA. “We aim to improve accessibility to relevant resources, and encourage people to express their opinions. Through this dialogue, we are fostering a community of people who share the same concerns about the internet, inciting large-scale action against threats to censor and monitor our online activities and communication,” said Murray.
Digital rights advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been following the trajectory of these issues since the internet first started in the 1980s. “WeOwnThis.net encourages people to share their knowledge through social media outreach, connecting people with hard to find resources through the website and mobile app. However, we take our campaign to the streets through physical engagement and this is why we have such an active community,” said Bergstrom. To understand the complexity of the web, let’s take a look at how we got to this point. In 2003, the idea of network neutrality emerged, meaning all web traffic is treated equally, and users have equal access to all internet platforms. “The essence of a neutral net is that we all have equal opportunity to innovate and communicate our ideas freely. Every person has an audience and everyone can be heard,” said Hom. “This means that any web company can compete with an online giant. The internet must be preserved as a free and open standard.”
The Protect IP Act (PIPA) was introduced in May 2011. It is a rewritten version of the 2010 Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which did not pass. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced in October 2011, and it is also based on a previous legislation called the PRO-IP Act of 2008. The goals of SOPA and PIPA were to work in conjunction together to give the U.S. government and private corporations power to pursue legal action with any websites they question to be enabling copyright infringement, posing heavy restrictions on all websites. Website owners would become responsible for any content that users post, such as comments or uploads. Sites that serve as a forum for user responses that include copyrighted media would therefore be liable for such posts and face serious legal consequences. For example, the 2008 30-second clip of a baby dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, was posted on YouTube and in response, Universal declared the video infringed upon copyright, and forced YouTube to remove it. This showcases that licensing corporations and media moguls stand to transform the internet into another one-way broadcast medium. Stephanie Lenz, the mother of the baby, cooperated with the EFF to sue Universal and get the video back online. “Copyright abuse can shut down online artists, political analysts, or — as in this case— ordinary families who simply want to share snippets of their day-to-day lives “ said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. We can’t even imagine the internet without websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Soundcloud or Twitter. If SOPA or PIPA had been in play in the early 2000s, these websites wouldn’t be the websites we have today. Instead, these websites have soared to be the most popular mediums for sharing and interacting on the internet by encouraging user freedom. The acts would make all websites very cautious about what is posted and restrict possibilities for innovation. The anti-SOPA petition garnered much attention on January 18, 2012. Blackout day, as it was called, involved major websites shutting down for the day, causing thousands of people to protest by calling, e-mailing and tweeting their opinions to lawmakers. Large-scale opposition caused SOPA and PIPA to be rejected by Congress, but the battle to protect net neutrality is not over.
While SOPA and PIPA received much interest, CISPA has re-
mained relatively “under the radar,” until now. So why did so many web giants put up a fight against SOPA in January and now they are so quiet about CISPA? Many technology and web-based companies are supporting CISPA, including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, AT&T and Verizon. Other web companies haven’t said much about CISPA, like Google. Frankly, it was more in the self-interest of these companies to fight against SOPA, because the bill would have made them copyright patrollers. CISPA, on the other hand, addresses cybersecurity, which is a significant issue for these websites, and the bill means they have the option to relay information to the government. For now, there’s not much motivation for such companies to get publicly involved. On April 24, Mountain View based software developer Mozilla became the first major Silicon Valley web giant to oppose CISPA. In a statement expressing the company’s disapproval, they claim that while they “wholeheartedly support a more secure Internet,” the legislation “has a broad and alarming reach that goes far beyond Internet security.” Rogers, in defense of CISPA, said, “every day U.S. businesses are targeted by nation-state actors like China for cyber exploitation and theft. This consistent and extensive cyber looting results in huge losses of valuable intellectual property, sensitive information, and American jobs.” There is no doubt that cybersecurity is incredibly important. However CISPA’s vague wording leaves too much room for abuse on many levels and, therefore, it is not a reasonable solution to combating cyber threats.
According to EFF, CISPA “could be used as a blunt instrument to attack websites like The Pirate Bay or WikiLeaks.” For those who are unaware, the Pirate Bay is a searchable database for file sharing. WikiLeaks is a journalistic forum that receives and publishes classified documents, and it is protected under the First Amendment. If CISPA were in action, the government would have the power to declare websites like these a cybersecurity threat and filter and block communication. Two parts of CISPA’s definition of a cyber threat are as follows: 1) “efforts to degrade, disrupt, or destroy government or private systems and networks,” and 2) “theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information.” That’s some nice sounding legal jargon, but to break down these statements and deduce their meaning, let’s look at some definitions. Here, “misappropriation” means “wrongful borrowing.” Secondly, “intellectual property,” covers pretty much anything published. As you can see, these terms are so broad that they could be misconstrued to undermine the purpose of open source websites like WikiLeaks. Also, the ambiguous nature of CISPA threatens everyday internet users. CISPA amends the National Security Act of 1947 to add provisions regarding cyber threat intelligence and data sharing. The bill clearly states that the information may be shared “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” Thus, CISPA would allow companies to bypass established privacy rights and pass sensitive user data to the government, which is a blatant violation of our online privacy and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
Congressman Ron Paul of Texas is one of many political figures who has publicly articulated disapproval of the bill. In a statement, he said that CISPA “is essentially an Internet monitoring bill that permits both the federal government and private companies to view your private online communications with no judicial oversight, provided, of course, that they do so in the name of cyber security… the federal government’s insatiable desire to control the Internet.”
After two years as the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator, Howard A. Schmidt resigned on May 17. As a leader against CISPA, he stepped down at a critical time during the bill’s ratification process. According to Larry Clinton of the Internet Security Alliance, “Howard can be credited for being one of the major influences on the emergence of cybersecurity as a major issue requiring far more intensified public policy analysis and direction than was the case before Howard took office.”
What does the White House have to say about CISPA? According to Obama’s Office of Management and Budget, “if H.R. 3523 [CISPA] were presented to the president, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.” President Barack Obama has indeed threatened to veto the bill if it made it to the Oval Office.
Michael Daniel will replace Schmidt, and as we don’t know yet how he stands on this issue, the future of the internet is unpredictable. “Members of Congress are open to discussing changes in the bill,” said Bergstrom, “so it is impertinent that we demand certain provisions be reconsidered and request that the terminology be more narrowly defined to ensure that it only deals with direct threats to cybersecurity. We are certain there are other ways to address America’s network security concerns without encroaching on our civil liberties.”
Technologies transform the way we communicate and participate in society as citizens and creators, with the internet in particular as a medium that has created a culture of sharing knowledge and information. The way bills are written is constantly morphing and changing, and they would have a very real impact on the way we use and experience the internet. Considering the background and the current state of internet neutrality, privatization, and censorship, it is necessary now more than ever for people to be informed and remain active. Among many of the opponents to CISPA and internet censorship, WeOwnThis.net is a leading community and whether you choose to act now on WeOwnThis.net or in public demonstration, internet censorship needs your attention. Scan this QR code or visit the website to find out three ways to become an Inter-Activist and fight for internet freedom via WeOwnThis.net:
THIS ISN’T JUST AN OUTCRY THE INTER-REVOLUTION IS AMONG US