privacy and safety online

Internet privacy laws that citizens should be interested in

Though it is not a common “dinner table” discussion, it is important that citizens stay in the know with all the regulations and laws that could affect them. One particular topic in this category is Internet privacy laws.

The purpose of Internet privacy laws is to define how and what the government and private entities can do with the information that is stored or transmitted through the World Wide Web.

Below are four of the laws that US citizens should concern themselves with.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

While there are a lot to be discussed, this is arguably the most important to all United States citizens. COPPA is a federal law that was enacted in 1998 and came into effect on April 21, 2000. This act focuses particularly on the online collection of (sensitive) personal information by organizations under the US jurisdiction from children who are not yet 13 years old. Give the technicalities and complications associated with regulations pertaining to children, there are some websites that bar the ones below 13 years old from using their services – even in instances where they have received permission from their parents to give out personal information.

The act stipulates what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, the responsibilities of said operator to protect children’s privacy and safety online as well as implementations to adequately retrieve verified consent from their parents. Based on this information, it basically guarantees – or aims to guarantee – that parents have total control over the information that websites collect on their children.

To an extent children can be easily manipulated, and this is particularly so for those who are not knowledgeable enough to understand the value of following proper procedures to facilitate Internet security. Such activities (speaking specifically to divulging personal information) can be particularly detrimental for children, especially with phenomenon like identity theft becoming so popular. There are multiple resources that points to the fact that approximately 400,000- 500,000 children are victims of the phenomenon on a yearly basis. Alarming numbers to say the least.

They are targeted predominantly due to the reality that parents are not inclined to check a child’s credit records or do a background check on them. Thus, the crime can perpetuate for years.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

This came about in 1986 as an amendment to the pre-existing law governing fraud and related activity in connection with computers. This act indicates that if an individual intentionally accesses a computer “(…) without authorization or exceeding authorized access, and by means of such conduct having obtained information that has been determined by the United States Government pursuant (…) with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States” then a criminal offense is committed.

In accordance with the CFAA, there are seven prohibitions:

  • Damaging a computer for information
  • Threatening to damage a computer
  • Obtaining national security information
  • Compromising confidentially
  • Trespassing in a government computer
  • Accessing to defraud and obtain value
  • Trafficking in passwords

The debate on this continues to this day, as many groups argue that the law it too vague and can be manipulated by others for their personal gain. As a matter of fact, they are active in their pursuits of having the law amended.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)

This is another act that strikes close to home for many citizens. With technology become so prevalent and the world becoming more “wired in”, Internet privacy is of key concern. This governs “electronic communication” – meaning any transference of signs, signals, images, intelligence etc. – transmitted through data-transference systems such as radio or wire connections.

Its primary purpose is to extend the government restrictions on accessing information on US citizens, whether through wire taps or weaving their way through their electronic data. People are always skeptical about what the government does to gather intelligence on those who reside within the country’s borders and with talks emerging recently on Internet surveillance by government organizations many are left wondering how much this act is being respected.

The act was enacted in 1986 to prevent unauthorized access by government organizations, however, given the evidence that it is still occurring the question is being asked, “Who has given them permission to do so?”

Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA)

Though this act is still in the works, it is already generating a lot of chatter across multiple sectors. Why? This is due to the fact that it will allow the US government and private organizations to share information. Though it does not seem like much to those backing the proposed law, for citizens it raises serious questions about the right to privacy that they expect to enjoy. They argue that with certain loopholes or manipulations of the law, their emails, text messages or even their stored files online could simply be handed over the government with them having a say in the matter – picture some federal representative weaving their way to a citizen’s Facebook account with said citizen having no idea that it is happening. It goes without saying that this won’t be passed without great contention.

Whether it is in the preservation of the country, the citizens or more specifically the nation’s youth, privacy laws especially as it relates to the Internet should matter to all. While it has becomes a beloved friend to all, the Internet can be manipulated by various entities which is a cause for certain taking into consideration the reality that most if not all of the personal, sensitive, and volatile information of an individual is stored there.

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