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In the book 1984 by George Orwell, civilization struggles to survive in a dystopian state that is controlled by the all seeing and knowing Big Brother. We passed 1984 28 years ago, and have since entered the Information era, with nearly unrestrained access to anything. While Big Brother is a concept from a book, many governments have tried to introduce seemingly Big Brother-ish bills that could drastically change the Internet as we know it.
Here is a brief overview of the four most newsworthy government laws or regulations and what they mean.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was a bill suggested in late 2011 and tabled in the American House in early 2012. What it proposed was to give the US Justice Department and copyright holders the power to take take down websites due to copyright infringement without hearing a defense by the website owners.It also gave copyright owners the power to lodge complaints that websites infringed on their copyright and seek compensation from ANY company that did business with the website. They could also get the whole website taken down, not just the infringing material, all without entering a courtroom.
SOPA also would have made it a felony to stream pirated material, with a potential jail term of up to five years e.g., watch any video with pirated music on youtube (almost every video) and you could go to jail for it. Taking it even further, posting links to illicit material on social networks could result in the whole network being taken down. The big problem with SOPA was that it would have given the Justice Department power to shut down access to both domestic and foreign sites in the US.
The Protect IP Act is the Senate version of SOPA. While nearly identical in nearly all aspects, there are two main differences. The first being that it doesn’t require search engines to stop working with foreign, copyright infringing websites. It still allows for copyright holders to lodge complaints against foreign sites though. The second is that it requires greater court intervention when pursuing copyright infringement. In late January, the Senate tabled the bill until its issues can be resolved.
After SIPA and PIPA failed to pass, American legislators introduced a set of bills called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The main purpose of CISPA is to guard against “cyber threats” and has been expanded to also cover national security. If passed, military and government agencies will be able to collect and share private data from companies without a warrant.Companies will be able to share data with government agencies, as long as it pertains to a cyber threat. These threats include anything that’s in relation to efforts to harm public and private networks, theft and wrongful use of data. In other words, download a movie from youtube that’s copyrighted and Google – the owner of Youtube – would be legally entitled to share your information with the US government.
The worst thing about this bill is that it gives the American government permission to monitor ALL of your Internet activity, and use your information without liability. If a government or military body shares your information because they deem you a cyber threat and it’s a mistake, you won’t be able to seek legal recourse.
In April the US House passed the bill, and a version of it is currently being voted on by the Senate.
The Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a multinational act established to help prevent the stealing of copyrighted ideas and material via any medium, including the Internet. What it does for the Internet is turn ISPs (Internet Service Providers) into Web Police, while restricting copyrights. At this time, the bill is unclear on the extent and power it will give to governments and large companies to monitor and protect copyrights. However, it’s an International bill that has been ratified by almost all first world countries.
While these acts originate in the United States, if passed, other western countries will most likely move to enact similar legislation aimed at protecting the interests of the country and companies operating within. A good example of this is a bill, C-11, currently being debated in Canada’s House of Commons. It has many of the same provisions that SOPA, PIPA and CISPA do, which could change the face of the Internet in Canada with any company that has ties to Canada being affected.
At this time, these bills won’t affect small businesses that follow the law, but if enacted businesses will need to keep a very close watch on employee Internet use and use of any non-original material. What are your thoughts on the bills? Let us know below, or contact us for more information.
Published on 7th August 2012 by Jeanne DeWitt.