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The internet filter coming to U.S - with barely any dissent
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June 23, 2012 - 11:32 am
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Friday, 1 October 2010

The US Congress spent yesterday packing up and heading home for mid-term re-election campaigns, having failed its most important job — passing the annual budget. But even this deadlocked Congress is capable of doing what the Australian Labor Party cannot — pass a mandatory ISP-based Internet filter — and do so before the end of the year.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi will recall the current congress for a special lame-duck session later this year before newly elected representatives are sworn in, to pass last-minute reforms in case the Democrats lose power, as widely predicted in the polls. Among those reforms include a low-profile copyright proposal with bipartisan, almost unanimous support that just so happens to include censoring whole websites included on a government-run blacklist.

The Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA) will blacklist sites that are “dedicated to infringing activities” regardless of where the site is hosted, with exceptions for commercially-oriented sites but not political speech. Originally planned as two blacklists, one controlled by the courts and one by the US Attorney General, the latter was dropped from the bill yesterday after ISPs raised early complaints.

Aaron Swartz from Progressive Change and Australian Peter Eckersley from Electronic Frontier Foundation began a petition campaign this week to fight the bill at, garnering 100,000 signatures in two days.

“This bill is so broad it could even block completely legal sites like YouTube, just because enough other people use it for copyright infringement,” Swartz told Crikey. “But even if it was narrower than that, do we really want to make the internet in America less useful than the internet in, say, Canada? Sites that are illegal should be shut down, not censored.”

Eckersley was also concerned there was a power imbalance between the copyright owner bodies like the RIAA/MPAA and online storage sites like Rapidshare or Dropbox, “where you might store all your photos to send to grandma, and suddenly they’re gone” if the site gets slapped on the blacklist for a different user’s uploads.

A letter signed by 87 prominent internet engineers — including those who invented the technology that would enable the censorship — said the filter would undermine the credibility of the United States in its role as steward of key internet infrastructure: “In exchange for this, the bill will introduce censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties’ ability to communicate.”

Congressional Democratic Party support for the bill could also cause embarrassment for the Obama administration. In January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said countries that filter internet pages breach the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights. That statement was thought to be in reference to Iran, Egypt and China, but also drew attention to Australia.

What separates the American proposal from the one pushed by Australian Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy is not just different intent — entertainment piracy versus “inappropriate material” — but political inevitability.

The bill was due to be raised today in the Senate Judiciary committee, where it has been co-sponsored by 14 of the 19 committee members, including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, guaranteeing it will be recommended to the full Senate. Only strong opposition from the majority leader’s office could stall it now. That the bill’s author was the committee chairman, the liberal 70-year-old Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, suggests the party leadership has no significant qualms.

A spokeswoman for Senator Leahy said she couldn’t say whether the bill would reach a vote in November as the length of the lame-duck session was not yet confirmed, but it was their goal. No public hearing was necessary, she said, as witnesses had addressed the issue at hearings earlier in the year.

Swartz and Eckersley understand the power of the entertainment industry’s lobbyists in Washington, but saw sunlight as their most effective counter: “I think most Senators signed on to this bill thinking it was just another standard copyright bill,” Swartz said. “When the public outcry forces them to stop and take a look at the details, they’ll rethink their support.”

The timing of the bill introduction in the last few weeks of congress with public focus on the election, the pressure of a lame-duck session and the speed with which it was co-sponsored by a majority of committee suggests significantly planning and lobbying. The EFF was caught by surprise and has had to rush a public campaign in response.

The copyright content industry had been on the back foot after losing a major court case in Viacom versus YouTube in August. That case will be appealed to the Second Circuit and possibly the Supreme Court. If enacted this law would lower the burden for the content industry and allow courts to preemptively act against infringement.

“If this bill had been around five years ago, YouTube wouldn’t have existed,” Eckersley warned.

The slow public awareness of the bill contrasts markedly with the American cultural identity which fears government censorship so much it prohibited it as the first amendment to the constitution and engraved it on 22-metre-high marble on Pennsylvania Avenue symbolically connecting the White House to Capitol Hill.

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June 23, 2012 - 11:46 am
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The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is a proposed law in the United States which would allow for the sharing of Internet traffic information between the U.S. government and certain technology and manufacturing companies. The stated aim of the bill is to help the U.S government investigate cyber threats and ensure the security of networks against cyber-attack.

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June 23, 2012 - 11:49 am
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April 26, 2012

US House passes controversial CISPA cybersecurity bill, now on to the Senate

The US House of Representatives has just passed the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA (HR 3523) by a vote of 248 to 168. The bill passed mostly along party lines, backed by House Republicans. While the bill is intended to safeguard the US against "cyber threats," critics say that it is too vague and broad, and would give government and military intelligence agencies the ability to inspect private data without the use of warrants. While the bill hasn't garnered the same level of outrage as SOPA did in recent months from companies like Google or Facebook (Facebook supports CISPA), web advocates have been vocal in their opposition to the bill.

The Obama administration has already strongly opposed CISPA and threatened to veto it, so it's not likely that this particular version of the bill will pass. The White House says that the bill lacks civilian oversight and privacy protections, and that "without clear legal protections and independent oversight, information sharing legislation will undermine the public's trust in the government as well as in the internet by undermining fundamental privacy, confidentiality, civil liberties, and consumer protections." Still, the White House has signaled that it is interested in some form of cyber security bill, so this won't likely be its final act.

We'll be covering CISPA in more detail, and will let you know what happens to the bill on the Senate side in the coming days.

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June 23, 2012 - 11:57 am
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June 22, 2012.

Obama Will Sign CISPA Cybersecurity Bill, Claims Sponsor.

The White House has gone on the record to say that US President Barack Obama will veto the controversial cybersecurity bill known as CISPA, but the author of the act has his doubts that the commander-in-chief will keep that promise.

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), one of two US Representatives responsible for introducing the heated Cyber Intelligence Security Protection Act to Congress, has opened up once more on the subject of CISPA. According to the lawmaker — who also sits as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — President Obama is likely to loosen his stance on the cybersecurity bill and sign it into law if given the change.

“[I]f we can get a bill on information-sharing to the president’s desk, he’ll sign it. I do believe that,” Rep. Rogers said this week during a panel discussion on the bill, reports Daily Dot.

Since being introduced earlier this year, CISPA has attracted criticism from across the country thanks to activists rallying against the attempt to involve Washington in the inner workings of the Web. If passed, the government would be given the go-ahead to peer into personal information stored online by Internet users and would be invited to put their eyes on sensitive data provided to third-party companies and other private sector corporations that operate on the Web — all while excusing those businesses from any liability — under the guise of national security.

The legislation has already cleared the US House of Representatives and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. As lawmakers on that side of the aisle prepare to ponder the bill, however, Rep. Rogers says he’s confident that, once the “dust settles,” Obama will authorize the act.

Earlier this year, the White House responded to the attention CISPA was accumulating by releasing a statement expressing the administration’s attitude against the bill.

“The sharing of information must be conducted in a manner that preserves Americans’ privacy, data confidentiality and civil liberties and recognizes the civilian nature of cyberspace,” the memo reads. “Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, information sharing, while an essential component of comprehensive legislation, is not alone enough to protect the nation’s core critical infrastructure from cyber threats. Accordingly, the administration strongly opposes H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, in its current form.”

Comparisons have been made, of course, with another controversial legislation authorized by Obama in recent months that was done after a similar statement was offered to the public. Last year the administration insisted that the president would veto the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, but Obama eventually inked his name to the bill on December 31, providing a signing statement acknowledging that he had reservations about the legislation. Nonetheless, the attention-grabbing provisions of the NDAA that include rules about indefinitely detaining American citizens were included in the final bill, despite the president’s alleged opposition. Several state have since considered legislation on their own that would free them from complying with those federal provisions.

Last month, Howard A. Schmidt, a leading White House official who publically condemned CISPA on behalf of the administration, suddenly stepped down as Obama’s cybersecurity coordinator. In turn, skeptics were quick to suggest that the president may in the future be less persistent in the White House’s fight against CISPA than it had been with Schmidt on board.

That is not to say, however, that CISPA will be inevitably authorized. It has garnered the attention of several leading lawmakers in Washington who are opposed to the bill, including Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). Last month Sen. Wyden told members of Congress that passing CISPA would create “a Cyber Industrial Complex” that would allow the federal government and its Big Business cohorts to profit off of the personal info of any American with an Internet connection.

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