With the House of Representatives' approval of the controversial CISPA bill, Internet users are worried about possible consequences. RT spoke to Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who said CISPA could be used to spy on people.
RT: Can you explain the difference between this legislation and the previous controversial bills aimed at combating piracy?
Aaron Swartz: The previous bills were about giving the government the power to censor the Internet. And this is more like a Patriot Act for the Internet. It sort of lets the government run roughshod over privacy protections and share personal data about you, take it from Facebook and Internet providers and use it without the normal privacy protections that are in the law.
RT: So as far as individuals are concerned, is it worse than the previous ones?
AS: Yes, it’s worse because it does allow the government to shut down websites for ‘national security' reasons. It does have all the censorship problems the previous bill did. But it also goes much further and allows them to spy on people using the Internet, to get their personal data and e-mails. It’s an incredibly broad and dangerous bill.
RT: It’s not popular amongst Internet users, but it is popular with big companies like Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft – they’re backing CISPA. How can protesters compete with major corporations and companies like that?
AS: Well, it’s true. Big corporations are supporting the bill, especially big corporations that make money off of violating people's privacy. So it’s not a big surprise they’re in favor. But we’re seeing that the same way grassroots efforts were able to stop SOPA – despite millions of dollars of Hollywood lobbyists behind it – are now also being able to stop this bill. I mean everyone said, this is just a consensus in Washington, you couldn’t do anything. And now, even the White House is coming out against this bill with strong language, much stronger than they used against SOPA.
RT: The Obama administration is planning to veto the bill despite the fact that over two hundred in Congress are supporting it. Is this more about political point-scoring or preserving online privacy?
AS: I think the White House is obviously interested in repairing its reputation. But I think there are some people in the White House who really do care about privacy. The fact is, when they looked at this bill and investigated it, they saw how incredibly bad it was and that forced them to speak out.
RT: This bill, though, at the end of the day is meant to enforce cyber security and prevent threats. If these are real threats, then surely the US does need something to safeguard against them. What’s your alternative?
AS: Well the thing about this bill is it doesn’t really have any protections against cyber threats, all it does is make people share their information. But that’s not going to solve the problem. What’s going to solve the problem is actual security measures, protecting the service in the first place, not spying on people after the fact. So what I’d like to see is what a bunch of security experts have proposed – a bill that really does secure computer systems, makes them harder to attack, rather than one that involves more spying and watching people.
RT: Across Europe, we’ve seen thousands come out to protest the planned global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. But depending on Friday’s vote in Congress, do you expect the same kind of response in the US over CISPA?
AS: We’ve already seen quite an outcry. I don’t think it’s going to be on the level we’ve seen in other countries. Almost a million people have signed a petition on the Internet. Many representatives have spoken out against it. This is a tougher fight, no question, because it’s harder to go up against this notion of cyber terrorism that they’re using. But I think we’re making a lot of progress and I think we’ll see the bill eventually defeated.
CISPA was introduced in the House of Representatives last November by Mike Rogers (R-MI) and has since been amended on a number of occasions. Numerous critics, including World Wide Web founder Tim Bernars-Lee and Representative Ron Paul, continue to criticize its overly broad wording, which would permit private companies to submit personal user data to the government.
Congress had previously failed to approve SOPA and PIPA, which sought to bar access to websites containing illegally published copyrighted information. The bills were shelved in January, after a day of protests by major Internet companies, during which Wikipedia and Reddit among others remained inaccessible for 24 hours.
An international equivalent of SOPA and PIPA, ACTA was signed by eight countries plus the EU and all of its members. However, the agreement was met with a bevy of protests throughout Europe and has so far not been ratified by any country