CISPA and SOPA: What Older Generations Just Don't Get About the Internet

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is the latest in a slew of proposed bills over the past few years aimed at reducing various types of online offenses. The latest U.S. war, it seems, is the war on cybercrime. CISPA is aimed at increasing cybersecurity, but the collateral damage could prove devastating for freedom of speech and privacy rights.

CISPA would allow businesses to share personal information about users with the federal government without a court order, arguably a violation of the Fourth Amendment which protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. (Although the House recently passed it, Obama has vowed to veto it.)

Before CISPA, there was the now-defeated SOPA and sister bill PIPA. The two were designed to fight trafficking in intellectual property and counterfeit goods, both laudable goals. However, the bills were overly broad. Online businesses could have been exposed to litigation and DNS blocking even for the actions of a single user linking to copyrighted content.

There was also ACTA, and now the SECURE IT Act, PRECISE Act, and Cybersecurity Act of 2012, all of which have serious repercussions for our privacy and freedom of speech. There are other worrying trends. A Virginia judge recently ruled a Facebook “like” is not a protected form of speech. 

Companies are constantly collecting information about us, and the walls of anonymity are eroding. The internet is becoming a more threatening place.

I blame the elderly. 

I’m being a bit facetious of course, but think about it: The average age for Senators currently serving is 60-years old, for Congress it’s 55. These lawmakers have grown up in a world without the internet being an integral part of their lives, and consequently don’t have a very nuanced understanding of its importance. Many view sites like Facebook as novelties, not as vital forums for exchanging opinions and ideas that should be protected at all costs. 

I’m not saying older people are unable to use technology. However, anyone who has received frantic phone calls from parents demanding to know where “The Google” went or spent hours explaining how to operate Microsoft Word understands there is often a generational gap when it comes to the intricacies of computers and the internet. (It should be noted that my mom did discover LOLcats and funny pug pictures without any assistance.) 

Today, this gap is more pronounced and more consequential than ever before. Our world is moving quickly; overnight, jobs become obsolete or a video can topple a world leader. Now more than ever, we need lawmakers who understand how to protect speech, privacy, and innovation online. CISPA, SOPA, and the rest were founded on legitimate concerns; however, we need to create laws that are better tailored to protect privacy as well as security and business interests. 

Perhaps there’s also something more fundamental we need to change first. In a culture that undervalues the elderly, we need to take a step back and reach out across the generational gap. When was the last time you spent a significant amount of time with someone who could remember World War II? With an elderly person that you don’t call Grandma or Abuelo? No wonder we have this generational divide over technology: We don’t talk to each other. 

It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to shift the demographics of the Senate and Congress to include many more young voices anytime soon. However, those of us who understand the implications of these bills must speak out and reach out. (Remember, elderly people vote in larger numbers, and politicians work hard to court them.) We need their voices.

So go ahead and sign an anti-CISPA petition and call your senator. Then go volunteer at a local retirement home. Teach someone how to open an email account and start a discussion about the internet and free speech. Show them how to sign or create a petition online. If we want to protect our online freedoms, we need to value each other, inform each other, and unite.

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Julie Strupp

Julie Strupp is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. She's worked for a variety of publications including the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and AllAfrica, and typically writes about social issues, solutions, and politics from the local to the international. You can reach her on Twitter at @struppj or at juliestrupp.com

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