In an ever modernizing world, the internet has taken a central role in western society. Not only as a social communication medium, but also as a marketplace and political forum. Some nations have even uploaded essential services so they can be accessed remotely at any hour. Many organizations and governments have uploaded massive amounts of data for storage on the internet, from banks to insurance companies and even government agencies. The development has brought society to a more high speed status, where we can exchange information in the blink of an eye, even across the entire planet, all from the little handheld device carried in a pocket.
Yet the great advancement that has revolutionized society also has a shadowed side; by making our data and information accessible to ourselves, we also make it more easily accessible to others. This means that robbing a bank could be done behind a screen and keyboard, rather than taking the immense risk otherwise associated with the act. It opens up doors to personal and industrial espionage, as well as potentially even large scale sabotage, as has been explored in numerous action films. In an age where we move towards automated fridges and drone warfare, the possibilities for damage are endless.
On the other hand, the encryptions and virus protection industry has also exponentially grown alongside its shadowy counterpart in the hacker scene. As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, so do its protections which keep unwanted intruders out, be it dangerous military secrets or your facebook account.
However, for each brilliant mind working on protecting data, there is usually someone working to do the exact opposite and gain access illegally. This has, of course, prompted governments around the world to attempt to gain control over the digital domains, an inherently difficult task mainly due to the sheer vastness of the internet and the offshore locations of many servers.
Furthermore, by gaining control over the internet, our information would also be at the mercy of governments at large. In an ideal world this would not be a problem, but even the most advanced and corruption-free countries have politicians in a position to potentially abuse power given enough time and negative societal drift.
The most unique and special feature of the internet is its neutrality- people around the world can communicate and discuss ideas regardless of social position or geopolitical situation. It opens doors for millions to access one another and spread ideas by their own merit. If a control mechanism were implemented, especially one with national interests at heart, this process would become flawed.
So we must ask ourselves- is the risk of having our lives openly accessible to hackers worth it?
The United States has recently been the most vocal nation in regards to internet controls. China, of course, has the most famous example of control, as dissident websites are routinely blocked and webmasters imprisoned, while closely monitoring any foreign sites which could reflect poorly on the Peoples Party. The United States fortunately still has to debate the implementation of such measures.
A Bill entitled the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Act, also known as CISPA, was shut down in the US Senate, drawing another round of online privacy debates to a close. The Act, designed to curb online copyright infringement as well as security concerns regarding hacking, attracted criticism that it would allow the US government widespread control of digital domains far exceeding that necessary to contain the economic damage done by illegal file sharing and downloading.
Potentially it could wield the power for the US government to shut down and seize the domain of any website deemed dangerous or supporting illegal economic or political activities, as well as easily spy on its citizens without consequence.
Turning the internet in the United States into a watchdog playground would obviously be damaging not only to government transparency, but also to many of the potential benefits of the internet. Opponent and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden described the potential danger of the bill as "The collateral damage of this statute could be American innovation, American jobs, and a secure Internet."
CISPA was not the first time regulating the flow of information was so brazenly attempted. The last effort, COICA, was effectively shut down quickly by opponents within the house, but was rewritten and submitted to following year under the name Protect IP Act. The full name was Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act or PIPA for short. This Act, alongside the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was introduced soon afterwards, caused a massive backlash from the online community.
Many popular websites and online communities, such as Wikipedia and Reddit staged blackouts to draw attention to the acts, which were strongly supported by the US media lobby in regard to the far reaching anti-piracy measures they entailed, regardless of the extent of loss of online privacy. This caused a strong backlash from the public which eventually helped seal the fate of both bills. In 2013 the bill was yet again resurrected in congress under the heading Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Act, popularly known as CISPA.
The zombie bill combined all of the criticized elements of the previous bills, but was rushed through the house without the public outcry that had accompanied its predecessor. It entailed information sharing between Internet Service Providers (ISP's) and the government on the basis of anti-terror measures, anti-piracy initiatives as well as anti-hacking concepts. In practice it would mean that the US government would be able to spy on its citizens, as well as anyone within the US cyberspace, for example hosting a server on US soil, without the need for a warrant.
Republican senator Ron Paul simply described it as "Big Brother writ large."
As the bill yet again failed to clear the senate, it suggests two things: the majority of Americans are not willing to accept a monitoring and regulation of the flow of information on the internet as well as the desire to conquer the world's fastest growing marketplace and communication exchange. The concerns regarding hacking in a security context are real, as communication and automatization of essential processes in industry and politics are becoming commonplace. On the other hand, handing control to any single government entity seems to be being seen as inherently risky as it would openly present the opportunity to create the murky police state situation its proponents are so worried about.
The immunity provision of CISPA would even possibly allow for corporate hacking, as long as conducted under the guise of combating loosely defined "cybersecurity threats". Furthermore the regulation of cash flow on the internet also holds untold potential profits as businesses cross borders and tax zones. Some politicians have sought to limit internet purchasing in the past due to the decrease in potential taxes as well as the elimination of domestic market protection.
Experts agree that the bill will likely resurface in a new form in the near future, and consumer groups encourage citizens to remain vigilant regarding the laws, and openly voice opposition to it, as the bill purely panders to corporate and political interests, potentially at the cost of privacy of the taxpayer. This of course also rings true outside of the United States as any regulation would likely not hold the neutrality of the internet at heart, instead following security concerns.