Monday, April 22, 2013


Hey everyone,

I try not to be too political on this blog. Even though it's a very casual and personal thing, I try to stay focused on works of creativity that interest me. However, I've decided to participate in today's online protest against CISPA, and I thought I'd share some typically verbose thoughts about the bill.

If it feels like we've been through this before, you're not alone. Ever since the Internet became a major channel for communication among Americans, it has been a target of frequent attack by politicians and government officials seeking to control its content or monitor its activities. I first became politicized back in 1996 when the Communications Decency Act passed Congress and was signed by President Bill Clinton: this law would have criminalized otherwise-legal materials when placed on the Internet, granted the government sweeping powers to regulate undefined "indecent" content, and held internet service providers responsible for the content sent through their networks.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court struck down the worst parts of the CDA. Ever since then, though, there's been a relentless assault on our constitutional freedoms, fought on the battlefield of the Internet. Most of you will remember last year's protests against SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, another poorly-written and overly broad bill that would have established pervasive censorship of previously protected speech. While being rushed to the US House, it encountered massive opposition that was spearheaded by major web sites such as Google and Wikipedia. Fortunately, the public clamor encouraged the judiciary committee to resist the bill's push, and it was defeated.

CISPA (the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) is not a repeat of SOPA. SOPA was ostensibly designed to protect against piracy, and would have enabled censorship. CISPA is ostensibly designed to enable sharing of information among law enforcement agencies, but will lead to pervasive surveillance of citizens by corporations and the government.

In America, we are very fortunate to have a strong tradition of constitutionally protected rights. High on this list is the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the government from spying on its citizens or seizing their property without following due process of the law. Of course, if a person poses a threat, the government can absolutely monitor them and take action to stop them: all it takes is a warrant. Under CISPA, every company with access to your data - Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, etc. - can spy on you and provide your data to the federal government. This is true regardless of an individual site's privacy policy. The bill will also allow companies to "hack" perceived threats, even if their victims are innocent, so long as they acted "in good faith."

So, CISPA essentially wipes the slate clean of all the existing judicial processes meant to provide checks and balances between the government's need for information and individuals' desire for privacy. The Wiretap Act, Video Privacy Protection Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act: all will be rendered moot. A company can promise to keep your information private, then turn around and supply it to the government, which can then share it with anyone and use it for other purposes. You will have no recourse against the offending company or the government.

It's a bad bill. A really, really bad bill.

President Obama has already stated that he will veto the bill if it passes the Senate, so I'm cautiously optimistic that CISPA will not go into effect. However, former Senator Obama previously reneged on a promise to block the immunity granted to AT&T's warrantless wiretapping, a case that bears disturbing similarities to CISPA. Public opposition to the bill will provide political courage and political cover to Obama and members of the Senate who oppose CISPA's overreaching.

So, what can you do to help stop CISPA?
  • Call your Senator. A call is much more effective than an email or other electronic communication, and will count much more quickly than a hand-written postal letter.
  • Spread the word. Don't spam your newsfeed, but a brief post explaining your concerns and pointing to information on the bill will help the movement grow.
  • Support the EFF. These are the good guys, and they have been fighting against awful legislation like CISPA for twenty years. 
  • (Bonus points): Contact your House representative and let them know what you think of their vote. Yes, it's too late to affect legislation, but if they realize how important this issue is to their constituents, they'll be more likely to oppose this type of legislation in the future.
I'll return to babbling about video games and books shortly. Thanks for your time, everyone!

- Chris

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