Status Update: Current Threats To Online Privacy

Back in April we rounded up six major pieces of legislation that posed a threat to online privacy and online freedoms in the western world. In the last few months since that post there have been a few developments, with some bills winding their way further through state legal systems, and others wilting in the face of popular protest. So we thought it might be handy to give you a quick update on the current status of these bills and whether or not they still pose a threat.


When we last covered CISPA it was poised for a debate and vote in the House of Representatives. What happened next took many by surprise, with the voting brought forward by a day and then voted in favour of passage by 248 to 168. This was ‘complemented’ by a series of amendments that allows the US government to do whatever it likes with the data collected under CISPA as long as they can claim a ‘cyber-security’ crime had been committed. However, despite the enthusiastically positive vote, the bill has once again hit the rocks. The White House has since stepped in and threatened to veto CISPA. The bill is again facing down political deadlock, with Republicans concerned that it invites too much state regulation and Democrats beginning to listen to privacy campaigners. It’s not clear when CISPA will reach the Senate. But then it’s also not clear what Obama’s alternative to CISPA will be.


Europe’s Anti Counterfeit Trade Agreement was already looking shaky back in April, after popular protest in countries such as Germany and Poland, as well as discontent within the EU regulatory framework itself, forced governments to review the bill. Now it looks like ACTA has been permanently put to rest. The EU’s committees on legal affairs, industry and international development and civil liberties all recommended rejecting the bill. Then just last week, the final nail was drilled into ACTA’s coffin, with a fifth parliamentary committee – the international trade committee – recommending rejection. The defeat of ACTA is a major coup in the fight against unreasonable copyright laws and proof that popular protest and activism in this area can work.


 Back in April we reported that SOPA/PIPA were pretty much dead in the water, and there’s been virtually no progress on these two bills since then.


The UK government’s Communications Capabilities Development Programme has been in the headlines quite a bit over the last two months. The bill was formally announced in the Queen’s speech and since then we’ve seen a media blitz, with the coalition government trying in earnest to convince the UK population of the bill’s necessity. As we discussed last week, there’s virtually no mainstream political opposition to the CCDP, and while activist groups have been mobilising, there’s sadly been very little protest in the UK. There are still issues over the CCDP’s compatibility with EU law and its technical feasibility, so its enactment is not 100% certain, but with the lack of opposition from the Labour party and the lack of popular protest, the outlook doesn’t look good.

Digital Economies Act

Back in April UK broadband ISPs had lost their final appeal against the UK’s Digital Economies Acts, which requires them to track copyright violators and implement a three strikes warning system. Now the DEA is moving toward implementation, with regulator Ofcom announcing last month that the laws will come into effect in 2014. However, as ZDnet points out, that date roughly coincides with the next general election, so there could be some more developments in this story (though given that it was the Labour government that originally introduced the bill, we have our doubts).


Canada’s C-11 law started off almost as bad as SOPA and PIPA, taking draconian measures to protect copyright. But popular protest actually forced the Canadian government to make significant amendments to the act and in June they carved out a much more reasonable and even handed law. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a good example of governments and activists reaching a compromise.

Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act

We neglected to cover Canada’s Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act in our original round-up. PCIPA poses a huge threat to online freedoms and received a cynical name change from the ‘Lawful Access Act’ in order to hoodwink Canadians into supporting it. Due to opposition from activists, the bill was referred back to the House Standing committee on Justice and Human Rights for possible amendments and looked like it was stuck in a rut. But as Michael Geist points out, $2.1 million has since been earmarked to advance lawful access legislation, indicating that the PCIPA is still a threat.

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