Politicians keep trying to mess with our internets. What can we do to stop them?
It seems that ever since the internet became popular, politicians have sought to control it. Whether they’re proposing bills because of corporate influence or because of an instinctual need to legislate everything that moves, our nation’s lawmakers have been at it for quite awhile.
Unfortunately for us, the ones in charge of regulating the internet don’t necessarily know what it is or how it works. Back in 2006, Senator Ted Stevens, one of those people, made an extremely laughable speech opposing net neutrality where he demonstrated without a doubt that he had no idea what the internet even was. It very much appeared that lobbyists for the major telecoms had encouraged him to speak out against it, without making sure that he was knowledgeable enough to not discredit himself. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Over the past few years, there have been many congresspeople who seem to be getting their talking points from certain lobbyists, rather than doing unbiased research themselves.
There have been a number of recent bills that have sprung up that seem to go against the spirit of the internet. Earlier this year, there were two bills, SOPA and PIPA that not only would have changed how the internet should work, but would have also broken key parts of it. That’s not an exaggeration – key parts of the technology that power the internet were technically incompatible with the bills that were proposed. Even ignoring the fact that the bills were essentially written by lobbyists and backed up by faulty statistics, the technical limitations should have given someone pause. Luckily, these bills were beaten back.
More recently, CISPA has been passed through the House of Representatives. CISPA is a bill that greatly increases the ability of the government to monitor our internet usage, and imposes a bunch of new requirements on all elements of the online ecosystem. Some consider it worse than SOPA, and Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, is vehemently against it. Only time will tell what comes of CISPA, but the Obama Administration has come out against its current form. It’s tough to say if a small amendment is all it needs to get their approval, though.
What have we been doing about it?
SOPA was possibly the first threat to the internet that we’ve seen really publicized. Major internet companies, including Google and Wikipedia (and even 1amgeek) blacked out in protest, and a huge number of ordinary citizens expressed their opposition to their elected officials.
To me, it’s been surprising and encouraging to see these big corporations take a very public stand on issues that affect us all. Not only have they helped individuals organize and mobilize against threats like these, but they’ve spent some of their own lobbying effort against them. Of course, SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA would make their lives harder in most cases, but what may have started out as a self-serving effort appears to have warped into a genuine leadership position in the internet freedom movement.
How can we do more?
It’s all well and good that the internet has banded together when these major threats have arisen to protest. The mass protests and blackouts have clearly been enough to repel these specific pieces of legislation, which is a great start. However, this isn’t the best way we can fight bills that endanger the internet as we know it. It’s been made clear to us that SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA aren’t dead, they’re just waiting for the heat to die down. Politicians are expecting that over time, the protests will get smaller and smaller due to fatigue – if another bill gets proposed every couple of months, fewer and fewer people will be willing to black out their websites as time goes on. The only way we can keep the pressure on and ensure that these bills aren’t even proposed is to be more proactive.
A number of organizations have sprung up to do just that, with one of the most prominent being Fight for the Future. Whether you’re a webmaster or an ordinary citizen, they have numerous ways you can help keep the internet safe. One of their latest campaigns was to involve themselves in the reelection of Lamar Smith, one of the more anti-internet congressmen we have today. Mr. Smith is one of the major sponsors of SOPA and its children, and is up for reelection this year. In order to get our point across, a new ad campaign was started, proclaiming “Don’t mess with the Internet”; hopefully, this will get some of the message across.
If you own or operate a website, the Internet Defense League is an alliance between websites, big and small, who are actively fighting oppressive legislation. They’ve come up with a self-described bat signal: a mechanism for alerting the administrators of these websites when something bad is about to happen, as well as coordinating a campaign to fight it. It’s all completely opt-in, and I’ve been encouraging as many people as I can to join the team.
It’s really tough to say how long we’ll need to fight to keep the internet safe. Normally, you’d think that given enough pushback, legislators would recognize the massive outcry and adjust themselves accordingly. Unfortunately for us, phone calls and emails aren’t the biggest influence in Washington any more, so we’ll just have to try more creative ways.