10 Terrible Tech Laws That Have You in Their Bull's-Eye

H.R 3523: Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), and S.2151: SECURE IT

CISPA Act
Image: Courtesy of DigitalTrends.com
The Legislation: These bills seek to protect the U.S. from cyberterrorism and other online attacks and would let companies share users' private data with government agencies. Such data would not be just regarding threats of online attacks; companies would be able to share users' private data in the event of computer crime or the exploitation of minors, and to protect people from the danger of death or serious bodily harm.

Why They Are Terrible: The legislation is overly broad and would allow companies to share people’s private and sensitive information with the government without a warrant or oversight. Government agencies such as the National Security Agency or other parts of the Department of Defense could then keep it forever and create profiles for not only suspected terrorists, but regular people as well.

Status: CISPA was passed in the House of Representatives in April. Either CISPA or SECURE IT will likely come up for a vote in the Senate soon. The Obama administration has issued a statement saying that if CISPA ends up on the President’s desk, his senior advisors will recommend that he veto it.

Why You Should Care: If the government wants personal information on users of services, including the content of e-mail messages, it should have to go to a judge and get a warrant. Otherwise we’re looking at a police state. Want to do something about it? PrivacyIsAwesome.com provides several automated tools for reaching out to lawmakers about the issue.

H.R. 96: Internet Freedom Act

The legislation: This bill would stop the Federal Communications Commission from executing on its “Net Neutrality” rules, which aim to keep the Internet open by stopping Internet service providers from doing things such as throttling or blocking access to the Internet.

Why It's Terrible: According to SaveTheInternet.com, phone and cable companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to axe Net Neutrality so they can decide “which websites and apps go fast, which go slow … and which won't load at all."

The site adds, "They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. And they want to discriminate in favor of their own apps, services and content -- while slowing down or blocking competitors’ services.”

Status: H.R.96 has been referred to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

Why You Should Care: Who wants commercial greed dictating the availability and speed of the Internet? This one is a bad egg.

State of Arizona House Bill 2549

The Legislation: H.B.2549 is another one intended to act against bullying and stalking. It criminalizes the use any electronic or digital device to communicate using "obscene, lewd or profane language" if done with the intent to "terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend."

Why It's Terrible: According to First Amendment rights group Media Coalition, commenting on the bill's original wording, the bill “… is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person.”

Status: Governor Jan Brewer signed H.B. 2549 into law on May 14, but only after concerns raised by the Media Coalition were addressed in amendments to the bill. According to the group:

“First, ‘annoy’ and ‘offend’ have been removed from the legislation so that the bill would only apply to electronic speech that is intended to terrify, threaten, intimidate, or harass. Second, the intent to terrify, threaten, intimidate, or harass must be of a specific person(s) rather than a general intent. Third, the communication must be directed to the person the speaker intends to terrify, threaten, intimidate, or harass rather than be a general communication. Fourth, the legislation is limited to telephone calls, text messages, instant messages, and email.”

Why You Should Care: It just goes to show how much we need watchdogs keeping an eye on legislation coming down the pike. Kudos to the Media Coalition for its work getting this atrocity cleaned up before it went live.

H.R. 3261: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and S.968: Protect IP Act (PIPA)

SOPA and PIPA legislation
The Legislation: These federal bills would have allowed rights holders to seek court orders requiring payment providers, advertisers, and search engines to stop doing business with websites that infringe copyrighted material so that search links to such sites would be removed. (For background, see "SOPA and PIPA: Just the Facts.")

Why They Were Terrible: Neither piece of legislation did enough to protect against false accusations. In addition, an open letter to Washington signed by tech industry big shots such as Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey in December pointed out that such legislation would “Give the U.S. Government the power to censor the web using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran.”

Status: After a mass protest by Web companies and users on January 18, Congress indefinitely postponed further action on the bills, effectively leaving them dead in the water.

Why You Should Care: A big thank-you goes to the many companies and millions of regular people who stood up to douse these two.

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)

What It Is: As SOPA and PIPA’s big brother, the treaty would let countries employ a three-strike rule that would require Internet users to be cut off if they continue to download copyrighted material after two warnings.

Why It's Terrible: Unlike SOPA and PIPA, ACTA was crafted in secret. It aims to protect intellectual property but requires highly intrusive monitoring of Internet users’ habits to do so. It also doesn’t include safeguards, such as judicial oversight or the presumption of innocence.

Status: The agreement becomes official only if ratified by 6 of the 11 signatories: Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the U.S. ACTA was signed by the European Commission and 22 E.U. member states in January, but following protests throughout Europe, many countries reversed their decisions to sign. European Parliament committees recently voted to reject it.

Why You Should Care: When wide-sweeping regulations are concocted without public involvement, you know something’s wrong.

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