In DC, the summer doldrums have ended, and Congress has begun a flurry of activity. Legislators are in the midst of considering several important bills:
The Informed P2P User Act is the latest effort from Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who in 1998 gave us the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. The bill is ostensibly aimed at protecting users of peer-to-peer file-sharing software from accidentally sharing their private information. Unfortunately, it takes a paternalistic approach that assumes that more pop-up warnings and FTC enforcement actions will somehow stop users from misconfiguring their software. Public Knowledge has the details. The House is due to vote on it soon; let's hope they send it back to committee for refinement.
The Megan Meier Cyber-Bullying Prevention Act's sponsors claim that it's designed to protect children from abuse. Unfortunately, the bill would ban any online speech which could be perceived as intended "to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person." As Professor Eugene Volokh points out, this would criminalize online free speech as we know it.
The bill received a chilly reception last week in a subcomittee hearing last week. Let's hope it goes no further.
An alternate bill called The AWARE Act would attempt to address "cyber-bullying" issues by providing funding for childhood online safety education — a much less invasive and more appropriate strategy.
Other problematic laws continue to lurk in the hallways of Congress. Congressional Quarterly reported last week that Democratic leadership is working hard to bring PASS ID, the national identification card scheme, to the floor. Senators Snowe and Rockefeller continue to promote The Cybersecurity Act of 2009, which would grant the President power to shut down the Internet. And, as we noted earlier today, a proposal from Senator Chuck Schumer is threatening to deny bloggers the protections of an important press shield law.
Most importantly, the battle for meaningful PATRIOT Act reform continues, even in the wake of Thursday morning's unfortunate markup. If you pick only one issue to contact your representatives about, this is it.