SOPA and PIPA, an Overview
Kenneth Wisnefski, April 27, 2012
In the digital age, Internet security is a growing concern amongst Web users not only domestically, but on a worldwide scale. Since its inception, the Internet itself has remained free of international censorship and government oversight. However, cybersecurity is an issue that continues to create controversy, as some believe that a truly secure Internet may only be possible by sacrificing user privacy.
Recently, proposed bills such as SOPA and PIPA have stalled, largely due to negative backlash by Internet companies and more importantly, the Obama administration. The well-documented intent of those bills was to eliminate piracy of copyrighted material online by allowing the U.S. Government to block websites. President Obama indicated that Internet piracy and security are both significant issues, but such bills could potentially stifle innovation and damage the integrity of the Web.
Today, a new proposal regarding the important issue of online security is gaining momentum in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), was introduced by Michael Rogers (R-MI) and is intended to defend American Internet companies and U.S. Government sites from security threats. Although this bill differs from both SOPA and PIPA in many ways, it is surrounded by similar controversy.
Should CISPA be signed into law, it would grant any U.S. Government agency the power to attain user information from sites such as Facebook, Google or any other private company in the event of a "cyber threat." The bill defines such threats as, "efforts to degrade, disrupt, or destroy government or private systems and networks." Any gathered information on users suspected of involvement in such threats is then forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security.
Known supporters of CISPA include Microsoft, Facebook and Google. However, the bill is opposed by the White House and President Obama has already announced that he will veto the bill. The official position of the Obama administration is as follows:
"Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, information sharing, while an essential component of comprehensive legislation, is not alone enough to protect the Nation's core critical infrastructure from cyber threats. Accordingly, the Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, in its current form."
CISPA has recently been passed by the House of Representatives, despite the opposition in the White House. However, the bill has been amended to help protect the privacy of individuals. Regardless of the changes made to CISPA, opponents of the bill remain unsatisfied. There is still debate over the broad and somewhat non-specific nature of CISPA, that some view as a greater threat than cybersecurity itself. Supporters feel that CISPA is an effective countermeasure against hackers and does not eliminate or reduce the privacy of American Internet users.
The Obama administration is backing a Senate-proposed alternative to CISPA, which would grant power to the Department of Homeland Security to monitor the Internet for cyber threats. Internet users, online companies and the government are all going to play instrumental roles in the future of cybersecurity and individual online privacy in the months ahead. As this situation moves forward, it poses a very important question that is relevant to the entire online community: Can Internet security be achieved without compromising privacy?