Article by Trevor Timm
This November, voters across the United States have an important chance to improve how elected officials approach legislating the Internet. Starting today, a coalition of Internet rights groups are starting a voter registration drive all over the country with the hope of making the voice of the Internet—heard so loudly during the SOPA debate—a permanent stakeholder in the halls of Congress.
InternetVotes.org has made it easy for you to register to vote. Go to their site and fill out and mail in the simple form. Then November 6th, you can cast your ballot for the candidates that you believe will best uphold the principles of Internet freedom. You can also share the InternetVotes.org widget on your site, to help your visitors register as well. And please help us get the word out by posting links to Internetvotes.org on social media sites with the hashtag #internetvotes.
For too long, Congress has ignored the basic digital rights of Internet users in favor of deep-pocketed special interests. But on January 18th, Congress got a wakeup call in the form tens of millions of citizens protesting the dangerous Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill that would have allowed corporations and the government to censor large swaths of the Internet with little or no oversight.
It was a great victory for the Internet, and we killed a bill that DC insiders thought could not be stopped. But it’s important to remember that Congress spent much of 2012 attempting to pass misguided and rights-restricting bills affecting the Internet, despite the protests. Without your voice to counter the special interests, they’ll continue to do so.
In June, the House of Representatives passed CISPA, a bill intended to address cybersecurity concerns, but which was written so broadly it would have carved out a massive exception to all existing privacy laws. We stopped this bill in the Senate, though, in part thanks to the outcry of Internet users who didn’t want their online privacy sacrificed.
And just a couple weeks ago, the House also voted for a five-year extension for the dangerous FISA Amendments Act, which was used to sweep the NSA warrantless wiretapping program—that collects and stores copies of Internet traffic—under the rug. Despite extensive and incontrovertible evidence that the law allows the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, members of both parties refused to add common sense privacy safeguards to stop Americans’ emails and other Internet activities from being collected and reviewed by the millions.
And Congress isn’t finished trying to mess with the Net. Just this weekend, CNET reported the FBI is renewing its push for a broad Internet surveillance bill that would force companies like Facebook, Google, and Skype to install backdoors into all their software to allow law enforcement real-time access to communications. We also know the content industry wants Congress to take another crack at a SOPA-like bill, as the MPAA has recently been handing out talking points to representatives extolling copyright maximalism, perhaps paving the way for SOPA 2.0.
But what could a more Internet-friendly Congress do? Well, there is a ton of common sense legislation waiting in the wings that could prevent censorship, improve user privacy online and spark innovation. By voting, you could help make these bills law next session. Take a look:
- Patent reform: A new bill sponsored by Rep. DeFazio would fix much of the broken patent system that is engulfing giant tech companies in billion dollar patent suits and paralyzing up-and-coming companies with legal costs. The only parties benefiting from software patent wars seem to be big law firms and patent trolls. Visit EFF’s site defendinnovation.org for more.
- Email privacy: Both the House and Senate have ECPA reform bills that would finally bring warrant protection to emails. We saw just last week that the Senate delayed this bill yet again after law enforcement expressed concerns it would hinder their investigations. Of course, this bill wouldn’t create any new rights; it would just bring the protections for our email into alignment with our rights with physical mail and phone calls.
- Cell phone privacy: The GPS Act in the Senate and a corresponding bill in the House would force law enforcement to get a warrant for our cell phone location data as well. Your cell phone, which pings a cell phone tower every seven seconds, is one of the most privacy invasive tools out there; it can give your precise location to authorities twenty-four hours a day. And law enforcement made a staggering 1.3 million requests for such data last year—a vast majority of the time without a warrant.
Congress needs to know that the Internet is watching and that users won’t sit on the sidelines as technology intended to connect us and bring knowledge to people worldwide is turned against us for the purposes of censorship and surveillance. A movement of informed, passionate Internet users exists and we want Congress to hear loud and clear that we’re willing to cast their votes in defense of Internet freedom. And it starts today, with a few clicks of a button. Visit InternetVotes.org and register to vote.
Cross-posted from Electronic Frontier Foundation