Areas of Cyber Law on The Internet Today
In many ways, the World Wide Web is a bit like the Wild Wild West of the 21st Century. There’s a huge realm of things people are discovering how to do online, and many of them aren’t exactly on the up and up. Cyber Law or Internet Law attempts to bring order to this budding world that has so much promise, and so many dangerous possibilities. Here are some common areas that Cyber Law commonly needs to address to keep order on the Internet.
Privacy first started to become an issue in the United States in the 19th Century. The prevalence of “Yellow Journalism” prompted Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis to pen “The Right to Privacy” in 1890. Since then, it has been recognized that new levels of technology required a new attention to the issue of privacy. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to establish the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy Test. The test said that a person needs to actually expect privacy, and that society needed to recognize the expectation as reasonable.
The Privacy Act of 1974 further solidified the need to recognize privacy rights. It was inspired by the Watergate Scandal in the U.S. and was enacted just months after Richard Nixon resigned the U.S. Presidency. Here, even long before computers were commonplace, Congress recognized that the use of computers and information technology was growing and becoming increasingly important to Government operations and the collection, maintenance and sharing of a person’s personal information put their privacy at risk. In 1986, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act sought to reaffirm rules on wiretapping, stored communications, and pen registers that monitored phone communications and later Internet communications. The driver’s Privacy Protection of 1994 prevented the DMV from sharing personal information found on a Driver’s License. In 1999 the protection of financial information at banks and insurance companies was addressed.
After September 11, 2001, the threat of terrorism became all too real, and the government began reconsidering the relationship between personal privacy and national security. The Homeland Security Act was enacted in 2002 and the Department of Homeland Security was developed which included a Privacy Office. In 2004, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act mandated that intelligence be shared as conveniently as possible, and also set up a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to balance terrorism concerns with the rights of law abiding individuals.
Just because information is easily accessible on the Internet doesn’t mean it is always free. Intellectual property takes valuable time and talent to produce, and the ability for those who own it to profit is a serious concern. Copyright laws have been harder to enforce which has led to various cases of piracy for written, audio, video, and software content across the web. Certain encryption methods have been developed in order to help combat the illegal use of these types of properties. For example, much of the online written content needs to be verified as original through Copyscape or similar watchdogs before it is sold. Downloading without permission and especially profiting from those downloads can have serious penalties.
There are, however, various times where information can be used in a limited manner that falls under “fair use.” Many have begun to simply offer material for free and use advertising as a means to gain revenue for the information.
Censorship and Free Speech
The Freedom of Speech has always been something we have fiercely tried to protect, and at times those attempts are at odds with the desire to protect children or other vulnerable persons. The Child Online Protection Act of 1998 was among the first steps taken to see that children under 13 were protected from Internet predators that could be present in chat rooms or on other community based websites. Sites accessible to the public that require registration, ask users to confirm they are over 13 before joining an online community.
Adult content, mainly material that may be excessively sexual or violent in nature is also supposed to be segregated and labeled as such. Parents have the option of exercising in home censorship by setting up filters to help keep this content from being visible to their children.
Cyber harassment takes many forms. It can range from bullying in chat rooms or on social networks to hacking into other people’s computer systems, Phishing for personal information that might compromise a person’s financial information or identity, or creating computer viruses for the mere purpose of wreaking havoc on the web.
Cyber law is often difficult to enforce, but more and more technology is being developed to help combat those who are dishonest or even malicious with their Internet activities. Because of this, it is important for everyone to exercise care when online and verify that the sites they visit and conduct business on have the ability to provide the security they need. Consult an internet law lawyer for information or legal help with cyber law related issues.