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Internet Freedom Worries Pivot to Privacy Concerns

May 15, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Legislation aimed at fighting cyber-terrorism may have the unintended effect of violating the privacy of millions of Americans online, according to the Albuquerque-based Media Literacy Project and the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act or CISPA is a proposed law that would allow the sharing of Internet traffic information between the U.S. government and certain manufacturing and technology companies. CISPA, which passed the House by a vote of 248-168, has Internet-freedom advocates, including Hakim Bellamy of the Media Literacy Project, concerned about privacy and government and corporate misuse of private citizens' personal information.

"It puts a gaping hole in any existing protections around the security of information for everyday Internet users."

Some large companies such as Microsoft and IBM are in favor of CISPA, in part because it would let the government inform companies about cyber-threats more expeditiously.

Bellamy, who is strategic communications director for the Project, says some of the support for CISPA is coming from people who generally oppose what's commonly called government overreach.

"Now, they want to give the government limitless or recklessly-undefined authority to demand that companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook and AT&T give confidential information from the user to the Pentagon or the other entities that will be receiving this information, as long as it's in the interest of cyber-security."

Rainey Reitman, activism director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, acknowledges there are threats to America's cyber security, but she 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."

The House version of CISPA is heading to the Senate, where it could be taken up this month.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act is HR 3523.

Renee Blake/Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM