New Year, New Congress – Moving Closer to Privacy and Security Legislation?

When I commented last May on the CISPA bill (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) that was causing an uproar in policy circles, it seemed as though the Professional Communicator’s world might change quickly.


While CISPA made good political theater in April and ultimately did pass the House of Representatives, it slipped away quietly in the Senate last summer given concerns about privacy invasion and civil rights, as did the similar Cybersecurity Act of 2012. Last year also saw the failure of SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect Intellectual Property Act), resulting from swift and forceful pushback from Silicon Valley. In the Fall, the White House promised an Executive Order on cyber security given Congress’ failure to act, but held back issuing it given the Election and the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ silliness that ensued thereafter.


But now it’s a new year. The Election is behind us and the players are in place. While bills failed last year, the amount of bills on cyber and data privacy increased – elected officials know these are big problems, and some action on privacy and cyber security is likely to come soon. The two are closely inter-twined, and one often is used in rationale for the other when justifying Congressional action.


I think mainstream users are ready for a change. A few months back Facebook grabbed negative headlines with its stealth conversion of every user’s email to @facebook.com from their original email address. And the “Find Friends Nearby” feature [nicknamed ‘the stalking app’] magnified attention on and resistance to proximity networks, which had not previously been broadly used. Instagram’s recent announcement that it would essentially help itself and its advertisers to user photos for free created outrage so quickly that the policy was reversed within a day. As such sophisticated technology goes more mainstream and more mobile, users are getting fed up – and parents are getting more worried. Communicators and marketers take note that boundaries are being crossed.


The reality is that better protection of our online identity and experience is needed, especially for children. Theft of intellectual property is a huge and growing problem that cuts into our national economy. And the cyber wars are heating up, as evidenced by the Flame attack on Iran and alleged attacks by the Chinese on U.S. government and business networks. Lawmakers need to balance protective legislation with still allowing market innovation.


In discussing this with another attendee at last month’s Silicon Valley PRSA Media Predicts dinner (shout out for a great event), I was somewhat bemused by his stance that DC would never catch up to the Valley’s innovation curve, therefore legislation would not matter. The law may become inconvenient, but it will still be the law. Communicators and marketers should stay tuned as passage of any bill will touch our work in ways to be determined.

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