Cyber Security: Limitations on Our Civil Liberties? Or Vital to Our National Security?

news feature pic  —By Dylan Planeta            Gabriel Carpentieri is sitting at his desk clacking away at his Alienware in his dorm room at Southern Connecticut State University. Leaning back in his chair, Carpentieri is surfing the internet to look for yet finds some of these sites are blacked out. Upon further investigation Carpentieri finds that these websites are protesting a bill called CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Leaning back in his chair, Carpentari mutters the words “Not one country’s simple government should be able to control the internet” says Carpentieri, 22, a computer science major at Southern Connecticut State University and an online activist.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is the third bill proposed by the U.S government as a way to regulate the internet. That would allow the sharing of internet traffic information between technology and manufacturing companies with the U.S government on what the companies see as a cyber-threat. This would allow the federal government to launch investigations into people due to suspicious internet behavior without a warrant. Before CISPA the government attempted two similar bills that failed. These bills were the Stop Online Privacy Act and the Protect IP Act, which had similar goals and were proposed to Congress in 2012. Cyber security has become one of the U.S’s growing concerns; President Obama attempted to address this concern by recently passing an executive order, which allows the government to share cyber threat information with companies that run important networks and vice versa. This increased security concern has caused the government to be more aggressive when it comes to the apprehension of hackers, recently Aaron Swartz, who was arrested for hacking M.I.T, taking academic articles and was facing a 35 year sentence.

Christopher Simpson, a journalism professor at American university, author, internationally recognized scholar with expertise in propaganda, democracy and media theory, bent forward in his chair with a stern look while sitting in his office overlooking the campus, giving his thoughts on CISPA,  “I think the main problem with CISPA is that there is a difficult tradeoff between civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S constitution, on one hand, and the way CISPA claims it will protect those liberties, on the other. CISPA will seriously damage those liberties, not protect them,” says Simpson. “CISPA is also being used to pursue a very restrictive interpretation of ‘Fair Use’ under copyright law. That also undermines free use of the internet.”

Recently, President Obama has highlighted cyber security as a main focus of U.S defense in his State of the Union address, “America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. Now, we know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mails. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems”.

Obama signed the executive order allowing the U.S government to give information on cyber threats to technology and manufacturing companies and vise-versa, just before making this address. In light of this need for cyber security, the cyber security bill CISPA has resurfaced and is up for vote again. However, Simpson believes that “There’s real question that it’ll actually pass. There is a good deal of public opposition, the Senate is not keen on it, the Obama administration, although keen on these goals, they are not keen on the particular methods that CISPA advocates.”

Gabriel Carpentieri, 22, a computer science major at Southern Connecticut State University, also opposes the idea stating that “the internet should be under the 1st amendment.”

“Identity thieves should be taken down however regulation is infringing on my freedom of speech” says Carpentieri, agreeing with Simpson.

Recently, Aaron Swartz, internet activist and founder of the social news and entertainment website Reddit, committed suicide due to, what Anonymous Amerisec member ‘Sinister’ believes as an over-reach in the prosecution of Swartz. Swartz was facing 35 years in prison for taking M.I.T academic articles from the JSTOR system to upload to a public sharing site.

Sinister quotes U.S Attorney Carmen Ortiz along with his own take on how the case was handled, “‘Stealing is stealing’ if you copy my homework in class are you a thief who deserves to be in prison?  The action is undesirable but not criminal”.

The online community is in uproar over internet regulation. On January 18th 2012 over 7,000 websites including Google and Wikipedia protested internet regulation by blacking out their websites, not allowing anyone to access the website or only offering information about the internet regulation bills, in response to the proposed bills. Along with online protests, there were also demonstrations in D.C protesting the bill.

Also protesting anti-hacking laws, online group Anonymous announced their reaction to Swartz’ death, which they believe was a result to a prosecutorial overreach, through social media known as “Operation Last Resort”. With “Operation Last Resort” Anonymous is threatening to release ‘warhead’ files meant to incriminate Dept. of Justice officials. Simpson states “that there are already laws about cyber protection before we get to the CISPA business that the government can and does use to stop that type of cracking and in fact a whole number of Anonymous members have gone to prison”. This means that Anonymous is not the strong cyber-hacking organization that it once was.

An anonymous source, who has had contact, experience with, and knowledge about Anonymous, contests this belief claiming that Anonymous is made up of “sects” instead of being one whole and “The Lulzsec went too far, they are the ones who hacked into the F.B.I. Lulzsec was entirely of all of those Anonymous arrests. They were the most radical faction of Anonymous”. The source goes onto say that “You can’t put Anonymous as a whole, they are difference sects, each one goes on their own. In New York they do not hack, they just gather once a month in front of the Scientology church in Manhattan, doing non-violent protesting. That’s it. They notify the police, they do all the paperwork and it is non-violent. They are their own sect and a very small portion of Anonymous.”

Looking at his computer with a grimace, Simpson, looking down, states that there would be a chilling effect using the example of “but think of your own folks, others parents, how deeply they are trapped, engaged, involved and how worried they are about their lives, kids, can they keep their job, can they pay their bills all that stuff. The potential both for active abuse of one set of people particularly one set of political enemies of that sort and the potential for ‘chilling’ an entire society is very very high” which could lead to restricted social media use. Without free range over social media things like the Syrian revolt would go unnoticed for some time.”

In an e-mail correspondence, Amy Eisman, Director of Media Entrepreneurship & Interactive Journalism at American University, former cover story editor at USA Today, former managing editor at AOL and also co-chaired 2010 Online News Association conference, responded when asked if social media played a role in the Syrian revolution “Yes, but it [the revolution] would have spread more slowly and the message would not have shot around the planet quite as quickly” in an e-mail correspondence.  With the recent hacking scandals, specifically the Chinese hacking scandal targeting the Washington Post, New York Times and the U.S government which Simpson describes as “that type of information gathering, known as signals intelligence, is a generic thing and is absolutely routine and has been for 50 years [citing the Cold War]. The Americans are the acknowledged world leaders in this” which begs the question are these ‘scandals’ just routine or a call for more advanced cyber security?

In China, however, the government has total control over the internet and the content on the internet. Heather Davis, 19, former resident in Suzhou, China, confirms that “The Chinese government had complete control over their internet”.  This began in 2006 when Google China allowed the Chinese government to allow censorship over searches due to pressures from the Chinese government threatening sanctions if the company did not comply. In order to avoid such restrictions, Davis states “my family used a Philippines based company for our internet and most of our television” in order to be unrestricted.  Davis recalls “around the time Chinese militarists shot Tibetans and it was a hot subject, my family was watching the news and an article came on about it. For only 10 seconds. After that the whole station was down for the rest of the day” showing a clear media censorship. However, in 2010, Google began sending its Google China constituents to google.hk for censor-free searching. After reaching a new deal with the Chinese government Google now simply suggests google.hk as a means of censor free searching instead of an automatic redirection. Commenting on Google’s decision to oppose China’s internet regulation demands, Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, said in a CRN interview with Yara Souza on March 15, 2010 “”I think the only way for China to save this is to make a clear statement that they are going to respect the privacy and security of companies and individuals,” he said, “However, I don’t see them doing that. There are cultural issues in conflict here that are not easily resolved. This is more than just a hacking problem. It’s a cultural problem. And a firewall and some encryption products are not going to change that overnight.”

Back in the U.S, a file-sharing website known as MegaUpload, which streamed free movies and television shows to users illegally, was shut down in 2012 for violating piracy laws. This sparked retaliation from Anonymous who took down the Dept. of Justice website as a response to the raid/shutdown. More common examples of U.S internet regulation in the past are the infamous pages Limewire and Napster which ran into piracy controversies themselves by allowing users to download music free illegally which resulted in multiple lawsuits and shutdowns. In 2007 Napster settled on one lawsuit for $130 million which was brought by The National Music Publishers Association. Limewire ended up settling for $105 million in a lawsuit brought by RIAA.

Carpentieri has yet to move, still leaning back in his chair with his arms behind his head, staring at a black screen, contemplating the future of the internet. Leaning forward in his chair staring at the floor, he ponders about the future of the internet. Mainly wondering will the government monitor all of the websites that he uses on a regular basis? This question bewilders him, and also frustrates him. Sitting up suddenly, Carpentieri comes to a conclusion on how the internet should be regulated, staring into the monitor of his computer, Carpentari states, “if you want to run the internet, which is essentially a cloud over the entire world, you would need a global community. You would need a U.N of the internet”.

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