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Internet Freedom Worries Pivot to Privacy Concerns



May 4, 2012

HARTFORD, Conn. - A bill before Congress aimed at enhancing cyber-security could leave personal information exposed to government and corporate misuse, according to Internet freedom advocates.

The bill - HR 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) - is, in a way, a successor to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), the anti-piracy measures that were shot down in January after an outcry over censorship concerns.

The issue with CISPA is privacy.

Rainey Reitman, activism director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warns of what could happen if CISPA is passed.

"Companies can intercept the communications of everyday Internet users. They can spy on your personal emails, on your instant messages, your text messages, and share that information directly with the government."

Some large companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Facebook are in favor of CISPA in part because it would let the government inform companies about cyber-threats more expeditiously. Facebook says it has no intention of sharing sensitive personal information with the government.

Reitman says Facebook's promise isn't enough.

"That is something that Facebook has said it doesn't intend to do. However, I think that's small comfort for those of us who actually have data that is being held by Facebook."

Reitman acknowledges there are threats to America's cyber-security, but says CISPA has flaws when it comes to civil liberties.

"We don't want hackers getting hold of Social Security numbers, but we also have to remember that we don't want data to go to the United States government. We have a structure in place that means that if the government wants to get access to certain information, they have to go to a court and get a court order."

Reitman says the House version of CISPA now heads to the Senate where it could be taken up as soon as the third week of May.

"We are very concerned that the civil liberty of Internet users isn't going to be at the top of the priorities list for our representatives, which is why it is vital that people speak out and speak out quickly."

Other cyber-security bills are "in the hopper" which could be melded with CISPA or replace it, she says, adding that Internet freedom advocates will be following the debate closely.

The text of CISPA is online at govtrack.us.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - CT