I use my name in my URL. I use my name as the author of these posts. I am not afraid of being found on the internet, nor should anyone who uses Facebook, twitter, etc. Especially if you have ever (even accidentally) left the GPS information in a picture you posted, or a tweet you made. Let’s face it: in this day of unending connectivity, we are more identifiable than ever.
That said, the Internet lends itself to a great sense of anonymity if you choose. Domains can be registered under any name (for now), you can post to websites under any number of pseudonyms, and you can tell anyone anything you like, because, you don’t have to connect your real life to the internet. This has its positives and negatives, to be sure.
On the positive side, it allows people in oppressive countries to voice their concerns and complaints in a forum everyone can see, and not become a prisoner of the state in the process. On the negative, it allows people to get away with any number of heinous acts of abuse and depravity against people, children, etc. I don’t think anyone can say that it wouldn’t be good if we could do something to stop these acts, particularly those involving children.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the very same representative who introduced SOPA, has introduced a new bill right on the heels of the suspension of PIPA and SOPA. It’s called H.R. 1981 or the “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.” The bill would be more aptly named “H.R. 1984,” but I suppose the PR fallout would be a bit much.
I linked the bill there, but The Atlantic explains it well enough.
In short, the bill would require your ISP to keep records of everything you’ve done on the internet, attached to your IP address and YOUR NAME, along with financial information and any other personal identification. These records would be kept FOR 18 MONTHS. So, now, your ISP has a big database of your personal information tied to everything that’s been done through your internet connection.
There are a number of perfectly legal activities one could engage in online that one would rather not be remembered. While perhaps offensive to the moral sensitivities of some, the fact remains that pornography or adultery or what have you are perfectly legal. These should, in no way, be able to be used by your government against you in any way. But under this new legislation, they could be. Suspicious spouse? File a divorce, and get a subpoena during discovery, and your entire browsing history is suddenly public record.
As it stands, the reasons for which a person’s data could be subpoenas are extremely lax, leading to a government by fear, which in fact, is a tactic the Atlantic points out was used quite effectively by Russia’s communist leadership. But the lax position on subpoenas is really a minor problem. The problem is in the requirement for a database to begin with.
Let’s put aside for a moment the absurdly heavy-handed approach to catching a very small number of criminals, and focus on the track record of companies keeping our data safe: Sony is hacked for months before they notice, Bioware was hacked, exposing EA data, Zappos, Sony again, and . . . well, do you get my point? Intrusions happen. And they are happening a lot. Perhaps they’re just getting more press, but the fact remains: data is NOT secure, no matter how hard they try.
So, when someone hacks your ISP and gains the data in this master database of you, it’s just a matter of contacting you (using all that fun information they have about you), and blackmailing you for whatever they want, really, or they’ll tell the world you have a latex fetish. Or you meet up with people from Craigslist. While maybe not wholesome, these actions are not not illegal, and they’re certainly no one’s business but your own. Certainly not the hacker’s, and certainly not your government’s.
Don’t get me wrong: child pornography is a dastardly, disgusting thing, and it really should be stopped. However, as I said with SOPA, the loss of liberty of an entire country for the capture of a few is NOT justice. It is, in fact, the opposite, and I don’t believe for a second that these congressmen believe this (and any other similar) bill is for the greater good. This bill is hiding behind abused and defiled children, in the interest of increased government surveillance. Shame on Rep. Smith, and shame on our government for trying.
Lamar Smith has shown a clear disregard for the safety and protection of any of his constituents, and it is a symptom of a government who assumes it no longer has bounds, or a commitment to its people. It’s a symptom of a government, of a leadership, so used to getting exactly what they want, they will do what best serves themselves, not the people they represent. It’s a disgusting glut, and as we enter election time again, we must keep that in mind.
SOPA and PIPA may be dead, but the fight for the safety of the internet and privacy from our government is far from over. Stay vigilant, and don’t let up.
So let’s talk about what we can do. About what steps we can take, who must we contact, and where do we go from here?