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4 Internet privacy laws you should know about

Brandon Butler | March 13, 2013
Last year after an outpouring of opposition, Internet advocates logged a victory when they defeated the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

"Rightfully so, there is little sunlight on what the NSA does," Stanley explains. "Because it's a military entity, it must be secret." But that creates privacy issues when companies provide personally identifiable information (PII) about U.S. citizens over to the NSA. "We have no idea what it will be used for," he says, because of broad definitions of cybersecurity in the bill. CDT is calling for rules dictating which organizations of the government use information and for what.

CISPA has been kicking around Washington, D.C., for the past few years but has gained bipartisan support recently, including from the two leading members of the House Intelligence Committee. Supporters reintroduced the bill in February, setting it up to be a hotly debated piece of legislation in the coming months.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

Internet freedom fighters mourned the loss of anti-SOPA organizer and Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz earlier this year. Swartz was facing prosecution under CFAA, which has since been referred to by some as "Aaron's Law." Reform-seekers believe CFAA -- which was passed in the late 1980s and updated a decade later -- is too restrictive in banning information sharing. Swartz, for example, was charged with stealing millions of scholarly articles and documents from an MIT subscription-based service called JSTOR, and could have served jail time.

Generally speaking, CFAA makes it a federal crime to access and share protected information. Organizations like the EFF have called for CFAA reforms for years, though, specifically to reduce penalties for CFAA violations and to install clearer definitions of what a breach of CFAA is.

It's unclear where CFAA reform stands at this point, though. Washington inside-the-beltway blog Politico recently reported that the Obama administration has been reluctant to support reform efforts.

Trans Pacific-Partnership Agreement (TPP)

While the other three items on this list have pertained only to U.S. law, there is an international debate ongoing to establish standards for online sharing among countries on either side of the Pacific. Technology advocates are worried about what the TPP will mean for digital copyright laws both in the U.S. and internationally.

The TPP involves nine countries along the Pacific Rim, including the U.S., Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Brunei, and soon Japan and Canada. The agreement could expand U.S. intellectual property (IP) standards to other countries, while reinforcing existing IP laws in America. Advocates such as the EFF are worried about what the law will mean for their efforts to ease "fair use" restrictions of content and reform copyright laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). More broadly, though, the EFF says the technology portions of TPP negotiations have been conducted in a shroud of secrecy.


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