The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Does new law violate privacy?

It feels like every time we hear the word Congress in the news lately it always appears adjacent to the words “fails to act” or “blocks bill,” so it’s always noteworthy when something does actually get accomplished. Late last month the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that will soon be debated on the House floor called the “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act.”

With a name like that, I can’t imagine many people are going to come out in strong opposition to the bill (well, maybe Anthony Weiner, but that’s a different story). Prosecutions relating to child pornography have actually increased dramatically over the past few years, and it’s pretty safe to say that protecting our kids from these abhorrent internet pornographers is a reasonable goal to strive for.

But what exactly does the bill entail? According to NPR News, “the bill requires all Internet service providers to save their customers’ IP addresses-or online identity numbers-for a year.” That might not sound like a big deal, but as written the bill would allow the government to access a person’s internet history even if that person isn’t under investigation for child pornography related crimes. In fact, a person can be suspected of nearly any crime for law enforcement to be able to search a person’s computer, and the police don’t need probable cause to do it.

As someone who’s read his Orwell, I have to say I’m a little bit frightened about delegating this much power to law enforcement, especially when the provisions of the bill seem superfluous when it comes to actually achieving their purpose. Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told NPR that police already have the power to tell an ISP to save its records for 90 days, but only for a particular suspect and not for all internet users.

For laws like this, there’s always the argument that “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.” However, just like the Patriot Act passed during the Bush administration (a law that President Obama has not been afraid to renew up to this point to the chagrin of many of his supporters), I fear what such a bill will mean for basic civil liberties.

Privacy has certainly become a contentious topic in recent years: text message histories, facebook correspondence, and internet histories can certainly reveal some incriminating things about someone’s personal life. Some might say that if we’re going to choose to live in this digital age then privacy ought to go extinct along with dial-up internet connections, but I’m just not sure I agree. People value their privacy; if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be such an uproar every time Facebook updates its policies making it easier for people to access its users’ personal information.

If we’re going to give the government this much power, where exactly are we going to stop? Jeff Fischbach, a forensic technologist whom prosecutors in child pornography cases often consult to get evidence, says that he doesn’t find “that there’s a general lack of evidence in these cases,” so why exactly do we need to delegate this kind of power to the government in the first place?

The law has yet to be debated by the full House of Representatives, and it’s certainly possible that the amendment process might allow members of Congress to limit the scope of the bill, but if the law is passed I’m afraid this might set a dangerous precedent for allowing the government in our living room. Stopping child pornographers ought to be a high priority for the justice department, but the administration already has the power it needs to do this. We don’t need the invasion of privacy to go along with it.

Brandon Bub is a sophomore majoring in English and edits The Daily Campus opinion column. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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