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It was early in the morning on January 18. We all remember it. I was exhausted from staying up until 4am working on an article, and I was running on about three hours of sleep and a handful of Bold Party Chex Mix. All of a sudden it dawned on me: I could not remember what book Lew Wallace, Nineteenth Century governor of the New Mexico territory and legendary foe of gunslinger Billy the Kid, wrote. Now, I am a big fan of trivia and an even bigger fan of Old Western lore, so weary-eyed me was determined to “remember” the answer. Obviously, I headed to Wikipedia for an expedient solution. That was when I saw it – Wikipedia was “blacked-out” in opposition to SOPA, the much-chided proposed legislative measure meant to curb online copyright infringement. We were all concerned about SOPA, PIPA, and, to a lesser extent, ACTA. It was a great moment of solidarity against a draconian solution to a real problem, but have we all let our guard down too soon?
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA), introduced in late 2011 by Rep. Mike Rogers, seeks to open lines of communication between entities such as the National Security Agency and private-sector enterprises in order to improve cybersecurity and protect individuals’ private information. However, many are concerned that, like SOPA, this well-intentioned piece of legislation could be expanded beyond its purported aims in order to abridge the constitutional rights of American citizens. Among the concerned are organizations like the ACLU.
In an open letter, the ACLU catalogs its apprehensions, most of which are based on personal privacy rights. As the ACLU reads the bill, private organizations would be able to share customers’ private information with the government for “cybersecurity purposes.” If the companies provided the information in good faith within the bounds of the statute, the organizations would enjoy full immunity for violations of customers’ privacy. Further, the ACLU is concerned that there is no comprehensive oversight structure in place, and no regulatory body has been charged with assembling usage guidelines. At the very least, the ACLU maintains that Congress should pare down the provisions of CISPA and define its application and purview narrowly.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) goes even further, arguing that CISPA “effectively creates a ‘cybersecurity’ exemption to all existing laws.” According to the EFF, “cybersecurity” concerns could be interpreted broadly to include intellectual property, essentially making the bill another SOPA. Beyond this, the bill could be used to silence whistleblowers, targeting controversial sites like Wikileaks. This is a real concern, as the current administration, once touted as a protector of whistleblowers, has become hostile towards those bent on exposing government corruption.
The moral of the story is this: we live in an age of exposure. Technology has outgrown the intended confines of the Constitution, and we occupy a brave new world in which we, the people, will have to remain constantly vigilant in order to protect our privacy rights. Legislators will be waiting until the public consciousness forgets about SOPA, and they will pass legislation that impinges our privacy rights in the name of “national security.” The question becomes one of substance and conviction. What good is safety when we have no rights?
By the way, Lew Wallace wrote Ben-Hur.
– W. Colton Cline
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