SOPA, DMCA, CDA, COICA, TPP with a red no line through them
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Heroes of Internet Freedom

Lifestyle & Opinion


In our last installment, you saw the third party candidates for President. We’ve seen what President Obama has done with the Internet, and what Mitt Romney wants to do. This week, we’ll be looking at the members of Congress that the Internet loves and our members of Congress.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is the George Washington of Internet freedom. Every single thing I’ve talked about in this series, he’s worked hard to prevent. When he couldn’t prevent it, he did his best to make it suck less.

Back when he was Representative Wyden in the mid-nineties, he fought the Communications Decency Act. What the CDA said was that if you posted something indecent, such as George Carlin’s “Filthy Words,” and there was a chance a minor might see it, you could receive up to two years in prison. He couldn’t stop the CDA, though the Supreme Court would eventually declare it too broad and too restrictive of adult’s speech. Wyden created CDA 230 to pull the teeth from the law by preventing civil claims against a site for comments by users, and protecting these sites from state and local laws that try to restrict users’s speech. This protection is why you can comment on a Facebook post, send a tweet, or comment on a blog. Notice that most sites that feature user generated content are located in the United States? That’s not an accident. Wyden has also championed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act Safe Harbor provisions.

After being elected to the Senate, Wyden was often the sole dissenting voice on intellectual property laws like COICA, ACTA and the TransPacific Partnership. He stood against the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, and will vote against the FISA Amendments extension when it comes to the Senate. In 2011, when SOPA was in the House Judiciary and PIPA was preparing for a Senate vote he was again the lone dissenter. He conducted a one-man filibuster against the other 99 Senators. Without his efforts, PIPA would have passed the Senate handily. In the wake of the failure of SOPA and PIPA, the conflict was framed in terms of Google vs. the entertainment industry. You were for one, and against the other. Senator Wyden gets that this is not a binary conflict, that users have a place in the discussion, and their rights deserve consideration.

Our senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, don’t have this kind of record. I’ve sent a lot of emails, tweets, and Facebook mentions to both of them over the years. Senator Nelson’s response on issues like SOPA and the TPP invariably sum up to “we have to protect copyright.” Which is fine, I support copyright, but not at the expense of users’s rights. Senator Nelson disagrees. He was a cosponsor of PIPA and defended it until the bitter end. It was only when SOPA was effectively dead and buried that he was willing to suggest that the law might have some problems. He sponsored the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 which was discussed in our first article on Internet freedom. The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 would have allowed services like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter to hand your personal information to the government without your knowledge or consent. It would have immunized those companies from lawsuits and invalidated a great deal of American privacy law. Nelson is currently running against Mack, but lets not even kid ourselves.

Current polls give Nelson a solid four point lead, neatly above the margin of error. For the record, as a member of the House Mack voted for H.R. 5949, extending the FISA Amendments which allows the government to read Americans’s emails and listen in on their phone calls without a warrant. He voted against H.R. 3523 CISPA, the House version of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, and had no stated position on SOPA. While Rep. Connie Mack has never made any statements regarding Internet freedom, it is worth noting that he is married to Rep. Mary Bono-Mack. She shares the radical view of her late husband Sonny Bono that copyright should be an unlimited monopoly, that it should last “forever plus one day.” She also does not believe in the concept of “fair use,” which students at St. Petersburg College use every day. It is unclear to what extent Rep. Connie Mack shares his wife’s extremist views, but do you really want to roll the dice on this one?

Marco Rubio shows some signs of improvement, but his record is still a mixed bag. He was a PIPA cosponsor, but was one of the first Senate Republicans to withdraw his support. He also created a Senate Resolution opposing the International Telecommunications Union handling domain name assignment, web standards and other functions handled by Non-Governemnt Organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium. The ITU never intended to do that; the actions Rubio was protesting were a modernization of their existing rules, but Rubio’s heart was in the right place. On the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, he cosponsored an amendment to make sure the personal information was secured by “certain entities” and that in the event of a breach that individuals would be informed that their personal information was stolen. This amendment sounds reasonable, but “certain entities” is traditionally the way Congress refers to the National Security Agency in public. Republicans in both houses preferred that your personal information be handed to them rather than the Department of Homeland Security. Considering the veil of extreme secrecy under which the NSA operates, it is doubtful that they would ever inform a civilian of a breach, or could be held accountable for misuse of your private information. When Congress reconvenes after the election, Senator Rubio is likely to vote with his party on the extension of the FISA amendments.

Moving on to the House of Representatives, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has distinguished herself in protecting users. Not content to sit back until the next SOPA or CISPA comes along, she will introduce H.R. 6529, the ECPA 2.0 Act and the Global Free Internet Act next year. The ECPA 2.0 is designed to protect users’s privacy. It requires the government to get a warrant (remember those? they used to be very popular) before it can force an Internet service provider to hand over a user’s private communications. It also requires a warrant if they want to track your phone or computer’s location. Finally, it prevents the government from using an administrative subpoena to go on fishing expeditions; each individual the government wants to put under surveillance must be named in a warrant or court order. It brings the fourth amendment into the 21st century. She has also written the Global Free Internet Act, designed to be an early warning system for threats to the Internet. It forms a Task Force composed of “the heads of several executive agencies and four U.S. persons who are not government employees nominated by the Internet itself.” When legislation like SOPA, or a treaty like the TransPacific Partnership rears its ugly head, the Task Force lights the cat signal and decides how to handle it. Rep. Lofgren has been active in fighting many of the issues we’ve discussed in this series. She has called for transparency in the TPP, and provided the USTR with a road map to accomplish that. She’s questioned the cozy relationship between the U.S. Register of Copyrights and the entertainment industry. She voted against CISPA, and the FISA Amendments Act.  In reference to FISA she said “I think the government needs to comply with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution all the time.” She’s attempted to rein in some of the DMCA’s excesses. She’s willing to stand up for you whether you live in her district or not. During the debate on SOPA and PIPA, she was active everywhere. She came to Reddit to do an AMA, she tweeted, and sounded the alarm for Internet users everywhere. Rep. Lofgren, Rep. Polis, and Rep. Chaffetz, are demanding answers from Attorney General Holder about Immigration Customs Enforcement’s illegal seizure of music blog dajaz1.

The blog was accused of linking to infringing content and was seized as part of ICE’s Operation in Our Sites. Under our law, ICE has 90 days to bring the case to court or return the site to its owners. They failed to do either and claimed to have filed an extension. When dajaz1’s lawyers asked to see it, they were informed it was “secret.” It eventually came to light that ICE was waiting on evidence from the Recording Industry Artists of America, who last I checked are not a law enforcement agency and should not be investigating anything. The RIAA failed to deliver, though they still insist that dajaz1 are bunch of dirty pirates. dajaz1 was returned to its owners after more than a year without so much as an apology. Lofgren, Polis and Chaffetz are trying to protect your work online. Compared to Lofgren’s record, our own Representatives don’t look good.

As I mentioned in my first article, Representative Young voted for CISPA and the FISA extension. So did Representatives Bilirackis and Kathy Castor. None of them had a stated position on SOPA. Tampa Bay’s Representatives all voted against your privacy and are failing to stand up for your rights online. We deserve better, and we can do better because of the Internet.

Because the Internet gives everyone a voice, we can demand transparency and accountability from our government. This isn’t crazy – we’ve already done it. In January, we watched SOPA and PIPA go from a sure thing to politically toxic. We spoke up together as Americans, and there were so many of us that they had to listen. That was just the first of many times this year that the rich, powerful and well-connected were brought to heel by the Internet. It can make the world a better, and more equitable place. We’ll be talking about the future we can have if we can keep the Internet free, next week in the final part of this series.

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