28th Oct 2016


Politicians divided on 'Big Brother' Internet laws

  • Congressmen and MEPs face rival internet piracy legislation this week. (Photo: hdzimmermann)

Heated debate on online privacy law has re-emerged in Washington with the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa) set to be the first bill on internet piracy to be adopted by the US Congress. Meanwhile, the European Parliament legislative committees will Wednesday (25 April) start their formal debate on the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty Acta.

Cispa, which is being piloted through Congress by Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, would give government bodies the right to request personal data on suspects from companies and to send online security messages to businesses and utilities.

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In an attempt to secure support for the bill, Rogers has introduced amendments that would give individuals and businesses the right to sue the US government in cases where data was misused and argues that companies would not be forced to hand over personal data and that much of the content would be removed.

In January the White House intervened to slap down Congress’s proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) following a concerted online campaign during which Internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia blacked-out its English language site in protest.

However, social media giant Facebook, as well as software companies Microsoft and IBM, have offered support for Cispa. In a post on Facebook's blog, Joel Kaplan, the site's vice-president on public policy, said the bill would "make it easier for Facebook and other companies to receive critical threat data" from the US government but would not impose "new obligations on us to share data with anyone."

Internet campaign groups argue that Cispa would give ISPs and social network sites the right to monitor users and hand over personal data without any legal protection. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul on Monday (23 April) described the bill as "Big Brother writ large" adding that it would turn Internet and social media sites into "government spies."

The latest political row over data privacy in Washington comes as Europe continues to wrestle with the Acta treaty, with the European Parliament’s legislative committees divided on the controversial agreement, which seeks to co-ordinate global enforcement of laws on online copyright infringement.

As expected, British centre-left MEP David Martin has submitted his recommendation to reject Acta to the parliament’s international trade committee.

Martin, whose Socialist group stated last week that it expects all its 190 MEP group to oppose the treaty, wrote in an explanatory statement attached to his report that the “intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties." He added that he expected the European Commission to come forward with fresh proposals to protect intellectual property rights.

However, MEPs on the parliament’s development and legal affairs committees, which have drafted their own non-binding reports on Acta, have backed the treaty. French centre-right MEP Marielle Gallo, who also chairs the parliament’s intellectual property forum, has backed the deal, as has leading Czech conservative Jan Zahradil.

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