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Inside Story Americas

Pushing for reform

We examine Obama's efforts to reform gun control legislation, immigration laws and cybersecurity regulations.

Last Modified: 19 Apr 2013 14:33
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This has been an important week for three key issues in Washington.

On Wednesday, April 17, the US Senate voted to reject a bipartisan plan to expand background checks for gun buyers drawing the anger of President Barack Obama, and relatives of victims of last December's Newtown mass shooting.

The proposal that was defeated by just six votes would have extended background checks to online and gun show sales, but it did not require checks for gun sales between family members or friends. It also pledged to keep the government from creating a federal registry of gun owners.

"President Obama is just the latest in a long line of democratic presidents, that have run afoul of the NRA, and been burned .... So this is not unfamiliar territory, we knew that President Obama was taking a bold step by pushing for gun control laws that were going to be hard to adopt, it turns out that his strategy for overcoming that resistance wasn't  good enough."

- Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor 

On Tuesday, April 16, the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators, published their immigration bill that they say will put millions of undocumented immigrants on a 13-year pathway to US citizenship and strengthen border security.

Although it creates a path to citizenship, it comes at a cost, with applicants having to pay more than $2,000 in fines and fees. No one, however, who entered the country after December 31, 2011, would be able to apply.

And the path to citizenship will be enacted only if various border security "triggers" are met. They include proving that the US-Mexico border has been secured, and that 90 percent of those crossing without required papers were being turned back, finally the bill proposes spending an initial $4.5bn on increased security measures including the use of drones.

On Thursday, April 18, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).

CISPA allows internet service providers and telecoms companies and the US government to share information, and it would also grant businesses legal immunity for violating an individual's privacy so long as they acted "in good faith."

"The political dynamics are different. With guns you had the NRA 100 percent against absolutely anything … whereas immigration, Republicans want  to get something done, the Chamber of Commerce is on board, and a lot of other conservative organisations will like it if their movement was not called racist anymore so they have some incentives to actually get something done." 

- Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post 

The stated aim of the law is to help the US government investigate cyber threats and protect the security of networks against attack.

But civil liberties advocates argue that it will give the federal government unprecedented powers to access the data of Americans.

And critics argue the language of the bill is vague, opening up the possibility that innocuous online activities could be presented as cybersecurity threats and shared with the government.

So where are the new reforms heading? And what impact will they have on American society?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests: Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post; Adam Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America; Sarahi Uribe, the national campaign coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network; and Holmes Wilson, the co-founder and co-director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy group.

"The intend of CISPA is to make it easier for companies to share information on security vulnerabilities with each other and with the government, which is great. The problem is they didn't include any requirement. The companies strip out people's personal information before they share it with the government. So we are talking your emails, your personal messages, your text messages, your photos, your real time location if you have a cellphone. All of this could be shared with the government, and they can use it without a warrant." 

- Holmes Wilson, the co-founder and co-director of Fight for the Future

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Al Jazeera
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