Internet Privacy Laws Under Debate

The explosive pace of new technology has enabled people to connect and communicate in ways never before possible. Lawmakers and Internet advocates must now tango with each other in a scramble to keep up with the technology and implement privacy laws that while protecting Internet users, do not place undue restrictions on them.
Four Internet privacy laws currently under debate that have a direct effect on Internet users include the following:
Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)

This law was passed in 1986 and has yet to be updated. Its purpose was to “expand and revise federal wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping provisions.”1 This law permits the government to obtain a plethora of personal information without a warrant. This information includes e-mail, Facebook and other social media messages, documents in your “cloud,” etc. “Online privacy law shouldn’t be older than the Web, and American’s shouldn’t have to choose between new technology and privacy.”2 An update has been filed by the House of Representatives, “ECPA Part 1: Lawful Access to Stored Content;”3 therefore, reform is on the horizon.

Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA)

This law would instruct companies on how to share cyber threats with the federal government, and the federal government would then use the information as follows:

A. Cyber security purposes;
B. Investigation and prosecution of cyber security crimes;
C. Protection of individuals from the danger of death or serious bodily harm;
D. Protection of minors from child pornography, any risk of sexual exploitation, and serious threats to the physical safety of such minor;
E. To protect the national security of the United States.4

These uses all sound beneficial to the general public, except that the bill creates several privacy issues that the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) objects to, such as: “Authorizing companies to disclose users’ data directly to the NSA, a military agency that operates secretly and without public accountability,” and “Broad definitions that allow users’ sensitive personal information to be used for a range of purposes including ‘national security,’ not just computer and network security.” 5“National Security” is not specifically defined in this context, thereby allowing the NSA discretion as to how your personal information is used.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

This law was passed in the late 1980s, updated in the 90s, and has a broad range of restrictions, but in a nutshell, it restricts the unauthorized access and disclosure of information that could be used to injure the United States.6 Reform of this law is currently at a standstill, although the Obama administration has submitted a proposal, “The Obama Administration’s Cybersecurity Proposal: Criminal Provision,” 7 which would supplement several of the sections contained in the original law.

Trans Pacific-Partnership Agreement (TPP)

Of the four laws currently being debated, this specific law is unique in that it operates on an international level. It is currently in its 17th round of negotiations and covers a variety of topics relating to trade between nine countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S. Its purpose is to, “…enhance trace and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs.”8 How do these objectives relate to privacy laws? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) feels that several provisions contained in the TPP, specifically the extension of intellectual property laws currently in existence in the U.S., “would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.”9 The impacts on technology appear to be more in depth than what is contained on the surface of the TPP.

The EFF points out that the U.S.’s copyright laws contained in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), are far from perfect, and adoption of such laws on a global scale would be contrary to the much needed reform of the DCMA, and would be conflicting to the progression of the other eight countries’ own laws in this regard.

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[1] http://epic.org/privacy/ecpa/

[2] http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/modernizing-electronic-communications-privacy-act-ecpa

[3] http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/113th/03192013_2/Statement%20ECPA%20Part%201.html

[4] http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr3523ih/pdf/BILLS-112hr3523ih.pdf

[5] https://www.cdt.org/blogs/1803week-action-opposing-cispa-0

[6] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1030?quicktabs_8=1#quicktabs-8

[7] http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41941.pdf

[8] http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/fact-sheets/2011/november/outlines-trans-pacific-partnership-agreement

[9] https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp

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