The Past, Present and Future of Internet Privacy Laws

by mrothman on May 23, 2013

The laws governing the internet have changed dramatically over the years. When the internet first began, people felt free to say as they pleased online without fear of negative repercussions. However, this is no longer the case. What a person says online can easily be traced back to him or her. Furthermore, certain governments and even the U.N. have either passed laws restricting internet privacy or are attempting to do so.


Two of the most notable legislative proposals related to internet privacy were SOPA and PIPA. These laws were meant to crack down on internet piracy, which is admittedly an endemic problem that deprives the movie and music industry of millions of dollars of revenue every year. However, the bills were so draconian in nature that large, internationally known websites such as Google, Wikipedia and eBay officially protested against the bill.

SOPA and PIPA would have required a site to be fully responsible to ensure that no content shown on the site infringed on someone else’s copyright. Under these laws, Google and other search engines would be punished should a person find a site with pirated content via search engine results. Wikipedia would have been shut down if some of its content were found to be copyrighted by someone else.

These two bills have died and are not likely to come back to life. However, those who first proposed these bills are still looking for ways in strip internet users of their privacy in an attempt to combat internet based criminal activity.


CISPA recently became law in the United States, thanks to bipartisan support from Republican and Democrat congressmen and women. This law is meant to help the government keep track of potential terrorist threats but seriously curtails internet privacy. It requires companies to share private user information with the government upon the government’s request; furthermore, the companies are immune from legal action as a result of divulging the information in question.

Some lawmakers attempted to add a provision to the bill that would prohibit employers from requiring employees to turn over Facebook and Twitter passwords in order to get or retain a job. The practice of asking for a Facebook and/or Twitter password is a controversial one that many employers have taken up in an effort to find out more about the people they are considering hiring. Naturally, potential and current employees are concerned about their privacy, as many people post comments on Twitter and Facebook that they would not repeat at work. Furthermore, there is the very real fear that employers could use social media sites to find out information about a person that could be used to discriminate against them at work (i.e. sexual orientation, political affiliation, whether someone is married and/or has children, etc.)


Sweeping amendments have been made to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. This particular act, unlike the laws mentioned above, is meant to protect a child’s privacy as he or she uses the internet via a computer, laptop or smartphone. The act makes it illegal for companies to use personal information about a child to create advertisements and market products unless the parents have clearly given permission to the company in question to use this information.

This particular law is set to go into effect in July 2013 and there are many people who support this law, others are concerned about what they see as yet another government intrusion into the internet. Opponents of the law note that this law would discourage companies that make apps and other internet based products for children, as the terms of the law are difficult to comply with, especially for small companies.

Future Trends

Future trends make it clear that the internet is getting less and less private all the time and it is not just governments that are interested in monitoring and even restricting what people say online. Google Glass, for instance, does not accept swear words; while this may seem minor, it is worrying to think that Google is now taking on the task of trying to restrict users’ free speech.

It is conceivable that in the near future the government, employers and large companies will monitor and even restrict how the internet is used by regular individuals. While many of these laws are meant to stop crimes such as internet piracy, unscrupulous use of data and more serious forms of criminal activity, it is clear that sweeping laws will affect the average user and make the internet more restrictive than it was originally meant to be.

This article is courtesy of the Law Office of Michael S. Rothman which serves Rockville Maryland, Washington, D.C. and other surrounding areas.

Michael Rothman is a criminal attorney in Rockville, Maryland and handles cases in both the Federal and State courts there and in Washington, DC.

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