Legislating Cyberspace: Three Key Issues for 2006

Opinion: The eWEEK Editorial Board takes a look at the three key political issues for technology in 2006.

In 2005, the eWEEK editorial board attempted to carve out positions on important issues related to the growing cyber-civilization, touching on censorship, privacy, copyright, digital rights management and other matters. Those issues will not go away in 2006, and, in fact, the U.S. government will become more involved. It plans to enact, amend or extend laws that will affect many of the issues that sit at the intersection of technology and the rights of the individual. Heres our take on three such issues in the new year:

Patriot Act. In late December, Congress voted to extend the USA Patriot Act by a month, to Feb. 3. In effect, rather than let the act expire on schedule—which we think was the best idea—legislators bought time to renegotiate certain civil rights and data privacy restrictions that no longer seem necessary and are strapping enterprises with costly compliance responsibilities. That process may prove difficult.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about the Patriot Act extension.

The law was originally rushed through Congress too quickly in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the four-plus years since then, we have seen the ready access that technology can provide to private information. The act does not need to be amended: It should be allowed to expire. Legislators, with clearer heads and a calmer attitude, then can debate methods of securing the country from terrorism that do not grant such broad powers to access private data.

CAN-SPAM. Anti-spam laws have been on the books for two years now and have done a good job in reducing the amount of e-mail spam originating from U.S. companies. According to security company Sophos, the United States now produces about 26 percent of the worlds spam, compared with 46 percent in 2004. But while U.S. spam is down, the worlds spam is up, with countries such as China and South Korea leading the way.

The U.S. government needs to work more deals such as the one it has with Canada, in which the countries partner to stop cross-border spam. One law on the books, the US SAFE WEB Act, according to supporters, would improve the FTCs ability to use the CAN-SPAM Act to track down spammers outside U.S. borders.

DRM. By now, the Sony digital rights management fiasco is part of technology lore. The root-kit protection scheme was forced out by acclamation, but, unfortunately, the incident shows how far away companies and governments are from fully understanding the nature of digital rights and how to protect them, all the while not stepping on the rights of consumers.

One bill we would not like to see passed is the Digital Transition Content Security Act of 2005, the so-called analog-hole bill, which would ban devices that convert analog data into digital data or prevent devices from recording in analog formats—unless said devices support anti-copying technologies outlined in the bill. This proposal inhibits both fair use and companies abilities to deliver functional products. We need to push legislators toward DRM solutions that do not assume all consumers are also media pirates.

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