Unlike the United States, most countries in the modern world have fewer opportunities to think and act without hinderance or restraint. This idea is especially true regarding the rights of users on the Internet. In the United Kingdom, this inability to speak freely on the Internet has become more problematic due to something called a “black box.”
These black boxes, which will be installed by the Security Service Mi5 (Military intelligence, section 5), are a way that user activity on the Internet can be further monitored. These boxes are intended to monitor emails, social networking activity and monitor calls over the course of a year. Obviously, any Internet monitoring plan of this degree will receive its fair share scrutiny from civil rights groups and displeased citizens. But politicians in the U.K. are justifying the Black Boxes as a necessity, because as criminals become more technologically capable, so must they. But what about everyone who isn’t causing trouble? These Black Boxes are intended to monitor all users and the government of the U.K. would have full access to anyone and everyone’s personal information, whether they are causing trouble or not.
Although surveillance of the Internet in the United States seems no where near as drastic as it is in the United Kingdom, it is something that has occurred more behind closed doors. One example of this is what happened to Nicholas Merrill, the founder of Calyx Internet Access and the Calyx Institute.
Merrill, the founder of the Calyx Internet Access (an Internet service provider), was essentially given an FBI letterhead asking him to provide “electronic communication transaction records,” or essentially, they asked Merrill to disclose his customers personal information. Merrill chose not to comply with the letterhead, stating that it would be unconstitutional, and eventually filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of Justice regarding the National Security Letters statute in the Patriot Act of 2001. Although a judge ruled in favor of Mr. Merrill by stating that this section of the Patriot Act was unconstitutional, the case was soon appealed. After being in and out of court for years the FBI eventually dropped the case, but a life-long gag order was set in place. What this case proves is that the Internet isn’t as safe as people might assume. If someone does something on the Internet that the government doesn’t agree with, then they will go to lengthy measures to stop these individuals. In the case of Nicholas Merrill, the FBI tried to order him to give up valuable, personal information; and even after a judge deemed the request unconstitutional, the FBI still forced him to withhold any information and for many years hide his identity. What the FBI did to Nicholas Merrill was infringe upon his rights and the rights of the constitution of the United States.
The Internet is in no way a place where user privacy is protected by the common law of the United States. Although certain surveillance practices on the Internet are far from constitutional, policy makers seem to shrug off this fact. New laws regarding Internet surveillance, like CISPA, are emerging and will further threaten the rights of all varieties of Internet users.
The main problems with CISPA are constitutional issues. More specifically, there is a nagging question of whether the individual rights within the constitution apply to the rights of Internet users. While civil rights activists claim that the two are congruent, governmental policies like CISPA would inevitably deny Internet users their right to privacy on the Internet. But if CISPA were to pass, then how long would it take until little black boxes, or something similar, were installed in every American household so that the government could more easily monitor Internet users? You’d like to think this would never happen, but no one expected that a CISPA-like act would ever come about back in the 1990s; so who really knows?