The Electronic Frontier

Last year, the government tried to take the Internet away from us.

This is perhaps the most inflammatory way to describe the current initiatives by governments all over the world to limit our online freedom, but that is what makes it the most appropriate. Because for all intents and purposes, the Internet is the last frontier for modern man — the last vestiges of a liberty that we long ago abandoned for safety and comfort, and it’s already being fenced in and divvied up by a group of aged men and women who, quite frankly, don’t have a clue how it works.

In 2011, Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas introduced a bill called “The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011,” which has currently passed the House Judiciary Committee and is in queue for floor debate. This act, with its innocuous name and bumbling conservative reporters, is perhaps the most egregious example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing this side of the Atlantic.

While inciting stricter punishments for child pornographers, the bill in no way solves the problem. It does not make it reasonably easier to locate child pornographers. It does not provide any additional funding for task forces to locate child pornographers.

Essentially, the bill requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to record information of all their users for up to a year. This information includes websites visited, names, emails, phone numbers and other tidbits of personal information — all stored on ISP servers just waiting to be hacked into, or, if you’re of the paranoid persuasion, to be reclaimed by the government. Additionally, this is estimated to cost ISPs a whopping $200 million. Remind me exactly what we gain from this, again?

And surely you remember the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” AKA SOPA, which amounted to little more than demolishing free exchange on the internet in order to eliminate piracy — which wouldn’t have worked on a grand scale, anyway. SOPA was considered to be so detrimental to the Internet as we know it, that Wikipedia, Reddit and thousands of other websites “went black” to protest the bill.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, was the undercurrent to SOPA. Also introduced in 2011, CISPA was torn to shreds by detractors for its lack of privacy or civil liberties concerns, but as of this year, the bill has resurfaced. Unfortunately, while the Senate and the political left lambasted the bill for having no teeth but sacrificing citizens’ privacy, numerous lobbyists, including Microsoft and Facebook, have lent their support. Even more disconcerting, CISPA actually passed in the United States’ House of Representatives — though the Senate has refused to vote on the bill and Obama has promised to veto it.

But the worst part about the resurgence of CISPA is that nobody noticed.

The first time SOPA reared its head, the entire Internet was up in arms. People called their congressmen and staged protests and even the mainstream media covered the issue. Now? It’s old news. Nobody can be bothered to care, and that’s when liberty gets lost. We, as citizens of this country, have an obligation to fight for the freedoms that we afford as necessary. It’s a slippery slope that ends in the abolishment of freedom of speech at worst, and a violation of the last frontier at best. Take a stand against it.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

 

Ryan M. Cady is a third-year English and psychology double major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.