The may be the Super Friends of the Internet: A group of prominent web companies including Mozilla, maker of the Firefox Web browser, the social news website Reddit and the blogging service WordPress have teamed up with advocacy groups and lawmakers to form the Internet Defense League (IDL), a coalition dedicated to rallying Web users against government attempts to take over or destroy the world — the world wide web, that is. And they want your help, too.
“The League is about its members fighting for the interests of the Internet,” said Tiffiniy Cheng, a co-founder of nonprofit Web freedom advocacy group Fight For the Future, which is coordinating the formation of the Internet Defense League, in a phone interview with TPM.
“This is a new 21st century battle for some of the same old basic rights like free speech, freedom to assemble, and the League is here to fight and to win and to help Web users stay engaged,” Cheng added.
To those ends, the IDL is first setting up a new Web-based alert system to allow members to warn of new legislation that they think will harm the Internet’s functioning, and is hosting launch parties Thursday night in San Francisco, New York, Washington, DC, London and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
There’s a certain irony, perhaps deliberate, to the IDL’s prominent reliance on a major Hollywood tentpole film to bolster its message, as its many of its members — including Fight for the Future and Reddit — are vocally opposed to the attempts by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to get legislation passed to crack down on online piracy of movies like “The Dark Knight Rises.”
But Fight for the Future and the IDL may no longer be as opposed to each other’s advocacy work as they once were.
Asked if the MPAA or major Hollywood studios were invited to join the IDL, Cheng told TPM: “If they’re willing to play fair, then sure.”
At the same time, as the Internet has grown, it has seen more attempts by government officials, agencies and policymakers to regulate it and clamp down on its more freewheeling practices, such as file-sharing, which facilitate illegal activity. It’s these attempts that the IDL opposes.
Two such recent such instances of U.S. laws designed to crack down on online piracy specifically include the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA), two bills that Congress was considering in late 2011 and early 2012. The MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America supported both bills.
Wyden, Issa and Polis were all among a small group of lawmakers that opposed the bills from their onset, but they were bitterly outnumbered for a while and the bills looked poised to pass.
SOPA and PIPA abruptly lost support in Congress and were scrapped after a massive online protest by Web users and websites on January 18, in which many sites voluntarily blacked- their homepages to show the censoring effect they argued the bills could have. That protest, known as “Blackout Day,” was spearheaded by Fight For the Future and its allies.
Now those groups have formed the IDL in an effort to create a more permanent, and slightly more organized, campaign in the advent that future bills pop-up.
Part of that effort includes a new alert system: An embed code, which is a few lines of HTML text that website owners can simply copy and paste onto their pages.
Online advocates, fresh off their victory against the Stop Online Piracy Act, are now gearing up to oppose CISPA because of the disastrous effect the bill could have for private information on the internet. The bill’s opponents argue that it goes too far in the name of cybersecurity, endangering citizens’ personal online information by giving the government access to anything from users’ private emails to their browsing history.
As the fight in the Senate begins, here is everything you need to know about CISPA:
- CISPA’s broad language will likely give the government access to anyone’s personal information with few privacy protections: CISPA allows the government access to any “information pertaining directly to a vulnerability of, or threat to, a system or network of a government or private entity.” There is little indication of what this information could include, and what it means to be ‘pertinent’ to cyber security. Without boundaries, any internet user’s personal, private information would likely be fair game for the government.
- It supersedes all other provisions of the law protecting privacy: As the bill is currently written, CISPA would apply “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” In other words, privacy restrictions currently in place would not apply to CISPA. As a result, companies could disclose more personal information about users than necessary. Ars Technica writes, “if a company decides that your private emails, your browsing history, your health care records, or any other information would be helpful in dealing with a ‘cyber threat,’ the company can ignore laws that would otherwise limit its disclosure.”
- The bill completely exempts itself from the Freedom of Information Act.
- CISPA gives companies blanket immunity from future lawsuits
- Recent revisions don’t go nearly far enough: In an attempt to specify how the government can use the information they collect, the House passed an amendment saying the data can only be used for: “1) cybersecurity; 2) investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes; 3) protection of individuals from the danger of death or physical injury; 4) protection of minors from physical or psychological harm; and 5) protection of the national security of the United States.” This new version still “suffers from most of the same problems that plagued the original version,” writes Timothy Lee. Because terms like “cybersecurity” are so vague, the bill’s language could encompass almost anything.
- Citizens have to trust that companies like Facebook won’t share your personal information.
- Companies can already inform the government and each other about incoming cybersecurity threats.
- The internet is fighting back: The same online activists who fought hard against SOPA are now engaged in the battle over CISPA. Over 770,000 people have signed a petition by the online organizing group Avaaz that asks Congress to defeat the bill. Reddit, the news-sharing internet community that helped lead the fight against SOPA, is organizing again around CISPA.
- Most Republicans support CISPA, while most Democrats oppose it: The House passed CISPA on April 26 on a mostly-party-line vote, 248-168. Among congressmen that voted, 88 percent of Republicans supported the bill while 77 percent of Democrats opposed it.
- President Obama threatened to veto it: Recognizing the threat to civil liberties that CISPA poses, President Obama announced this week that he “strongly opposes” the bill and has threatened to veto if it comes to his desk. Obama singled out the provisions that allow for blanket legal immunity and do not enough to safeguard citizens’ private information.
CISPA Replaces SOPA As Internet’s Enemy No. 1 (Must Read)
The Internet has a new enemy. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA), also known as H.R. 3523, is a “cybersecurity” bill in the House of Representatives. While CISPA does not focus primarily on intellectual property (though that’s in there, too), critics say the problems with the bill run just as deep.
As with SOPA and PIPA, the first main concern about CISPA is its “broad language,” which critics fear allows the legislation to be interpreted in ways that could infringe on our civil liberties. The Center for Democracy and Technology sums up the problems with CISPA this way:
• The bill has a very broad, almost unlimited definition of the information that can be shared with government agencies notwithstanding privacy and other laws;
• The bill is likely to lead to expansion of the government’s role in the monitoring of private communications as a result of this sharing;
• It is likely to shift control of government cybersecurity efforts from civilian agencies to the military;
• Once the information is shared with the government, it wouldn’t have to be used for cybesecurity, but could instead be used for any purpose that is not specifically prohibited.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) adds that CISPA’s definition of “cybersecurity” is so broad that “it leaves the door open to censor any speech that a company believes would ‘degrade the network.’”
Moreover, the inclusion of “intellectual property” means that companies and the government would have “new powers to monitor and censor communications for copyright infringement.”
Furthermore, critics warn that CISPA gives private companies the ability to collect and share information about their customers or users with immunity — meaning we cannot sue them for doing so, and they cannot be charged with any crimes.
According to the EFF, CISPA “effectively creates a ‘cybersecurity’ exemption to all existing laws.”
“There are almost no restrictions on what can be collected and how it can be used, provided a company can claim it was motivated by ‘cybersecurity purposes.’” the EFF continues.
“That means a company like Google, Facebook, Twitter, or AT&T could intercept your emails and text messages, send copies to one another and to the government, and modify those communications or prevent them from reaching their destination if it fits into their plan to stop cybersecurity threats.”
Leaders in Congress on Friday effectively killed two pieces of anti-online piracy legislation following the increasingly vocal protests of tens of thousands of websites and millions of Internet users.
That’s right, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate are, for all practical purposes, dead in the water.
Sure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)used the word “postponed” in their announcements, saying that Congress would only take a breather, but would certainly not give up for good on its goal of passing some sort of legislation designed to combat overseas “rogue” websites hosting pirated American content.
But whenever Congress decides to re-engage the online piracy fight — and it could be a while, given just how acrimonious the debate over the bills became in the last week — it’s almost certain that SOPA and PIPA won’t be revived in any recognizable form.
Rather, Congress is likely to start fresh on a whole new piece of anti-piracy legislation, perhaps using the alternative OPEN Act, a bill proposed by stalwart SOPA and PIPA critics Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
Issa savored the victory on Friday, posting a note on his website reading: “THIS JUST IN!! YOU GUYS STOPPED PIPA (SOPA’s Senate counterpart)! Internet mutiny paired with calls from people across the country certainly must be responsible for Harry Reid’s decision to ‘postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act.’ For now, we can take a breath of relief. But we’ve still got our eye on both SOPA & PIPA.”
Behind the scenes, Hill staffers from both sides of the aisle confirmed to TPM that the entire piracy debate had become so “toxic” that virtually no lawmakers were likely to be ready to re-engage it anytime soon.
That’s an amazing turnaround from where things stood a short while ago, toward the beginning of the year, when SOPA and PIPA were broadly supported by a bipartisan coalition and backed solidly by Hollywood and the recording industry, who had sought the legislation to curb the ease with which their works were pirated online by overseas websites such as The Pirate Bay.
More to the point, the bills — both of which sought to give the U.S. Attorney General the power to obtain court orders to force American companies to sever ties with foreign websites — were still fairly obscure when 2012 began.
The clearest turning point was surely “Blackout Day,” Wednesday, January 18, which saw coordinated online protests on by upwards of an estimated 115,000 websites, coupled with physical protests by hundreds on the ground in five cities.
Throughout the day, 19 Senators and numerous other Representatives — many of them Republicans — came out in opposition to SOPA and PIPA or renounced their former support for the bills.
“When people on the outside make their voices heard, it becomes incumbent to address their legitimate concerns,” one Hill staffer told TPM.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, quite the opposite — a small core of SOPA opponents including Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and others introduced 55 amendments to the Smith’s bill in an effort to address the complaints of the Web community, or at least slow the progress of SOPA down.
In the end, the hearing lasted an arduous 15 hours spanning over two days, at which point Chaffetz finally convinced Smith to adjourn the hearing and consider holding additional hearings on the potential cybersecurity ramifications of SOPA. Nobody knew it at the time, but that was to be the last time lawmakers formally considered SOPA.
After the SOPA hearing was adjourned, Congress went on recess, giving opponents more time to rally. And fortune worked in their favor too, with the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) being scheduled during the recess, giving Issa and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), another strong opponent of the bills, time to attend to the show and spread the word to thousands of techies from around the U.S. and the globe.
The reason why the Web community picked SOPA as its rallying point, as opposed to the PROTECT IP Act, which had been introduced in the Senate far earlier by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in May 2011, is interesting also.
Sources close to the Internet companies that were staunchly opposed to the legislation from the getgo told TPM that they expressed their concerns when PIPA was first introduced, but that PIPA’s backers had basically pulled a bait-and-switch on them.
Dodd was something of a late-comer to the SOPA fight as well, but when he finally did so on Tuesday, the effect was like a bomb going off. Dodd released a statement on Tuesday ahead of the mass protests, blasting “Blackout Day” and the companies involved, accusing them of being “irresponsible” and turning their users into “corporate pawns.”
He then went on a full-throated media blitz — cable news, major newspapers — attacking critics of the bills as unreasonable, even threatening, in so many words, that Hollywood would abandon its historic support of — and donations to — the Democrats and President Obama in the 2012 election cycle.
“Candidly, those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake,” Dodd said in an exclusive interview with Fox News. “Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”
“Who says that out loud?” wondered one source close to the Web companies who spoke to TPM.
“What was the connection between Dodd’s former political career and the bills getting as far as they did, on the calendar for a vote, in the case of the Senate?” asked another.
However, Dodd, who is by law formally prevented from lobbying Congress for another 70 days or so, gave an interview to the New York Times on Thursday in which he appeared to raise the white flag, calling for the bill’s supporters in Hollywood and opponents in the tech community to meet and hammer out their differences in a White House summit.
In the interview, Dodd candidly acknowledges how his organization was taken aback by the mass online protests against the bills.
But even with SOPA and PIPA dead, opponents to the bills aren’t letting their guards down.
“We’re ready to try and keep any effort from going forward where the copyright lobby is trying to block, censor us, or cut off our PayPal accounts,” Fight for the Future’s Cheng told TPM.
As for going forward, Cheng’s group and the Web companies are tentatively interested in supporting Wyden’s and Issa’s OPEN ACT, an alternative bill that narrows the definitions of pirate websites and shifts the responsibility for fighting them over to the International Trade Commission. But some say that focusing on pirates to begin with might not be the right approach.
“Where we need to start is actually getting a ‘User’s Bill of Rights’ together for communication and sharing of culture,” Cheng said. “We need to defend way people communicate online. Once we get that in place, then we can go forth from there.”
Cheng said her group is working on drafting a Internet User’s Bill of Rights at the moment.
h/t: Carl Franzen at TPM
SOPA and PIPA shelved… at least temporarily
Victory! #SOPA and #PIPA are both stopped… for now.
UPDATED Jan. 16, 3:15 ET — Opponents of controversial federal anti-piracy legislation known as SOPA seem to be picking up steam. Supporters of the legislation in both houses of Congress appear have backed off, the Obama administration has expressed concerns with the legislation, and an Internet blackout slated for Wednesday is picking up supporters.
A House subcommittee was slated to prepare the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, for a vote later this month; the Senate had planned a vote on the companion bill, PIPA (The Protect IP Act,) even sooner. Now, it appears both votes will be delayed.
SOPA opponents are rallying around an effort to call attention to the legislation by convincing Web sites to “go dark” on Jan. 18, and display only a simple message of protest on a black background. On Monday, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced that his website will go dark for 24 hours starting at midnight ET Tuesday, following the lead of other high-profile promised blackouts. Reddit.com will go black from 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The hacker group Anonymous also encouraged others to join in the 12-hour blackout, and garnered a lot of attention with its Twitter postusing the hashtag #BlackoutSOPA.sMeanwhile, several signs point to SOPA legislation hitting some serious speedbumps. On Saturday, a statement issued by White House cyberczar Howard Schmidt, and other administration technology officials, threw cold water on SOPA’s anti-piracy efforts.
"Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online," says the response, referring to SOPA’s proposal to allow law enforcement officials to blacklist Web sites — cut them off from U.S. users — that allegedly encourage piracy. The response,posted at WhiteHouse.gov on Saturday, does not take a position on SOPA, but it cautioned lawmakers that the administration will opposed anti-piracy efforts that might increased censorship.
"Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," the memo reads.
In Congress, supporters of the legislation have recently indicated they are open to changing their proposals.
Late Friday afternoon, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said he planned tone down enforcement powers that would be granted by the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). A new version would not include the most controversial provision, which would have enabled federal authorities to “blacklist” domains that were alleged to be involved in distribution of pirated content, effectively cutting portions of the Web off from all U.S. users.
"After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision," Smith, one of SOPA’s chief backers, said in a statement. "We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers."
The move comes after a similar step taken on Thursday by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), sponsor of the Senate version, PIPA. Leahy said complaints from “human rights groups, engineers, and others” had convinced him to change his thinking on the bill.
"I remain confident that the ISPs — including the cable industry, which is the largest association of ISPs — would not support the legislation if its enactment created the problems that opponents of this provision suggest. Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it," he said in a statement on his website.
Saturday marked a major victory for opponents of proposed anti-piracy legislation Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which would target foreign-based websites violating U.S. copyrights.
House of Representatives bill SOPA and its Senate counterpart PIPA are designed to punish websites that make available, for example, free movies and music without the permission of the U.S. rights holders. Opponents of the bills, however, worry that the proposed laws would grant the Department of Justice too much regulatory power. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has called the measures “draconian.” Other Internet giants who oppose the bill include Facebook, eBay, Mozilla, Twitter, and Huffington Post parent company AOL.
The White House on Saturday officially responded to two online petitions, “Stop the E-PARASITE Act” and “Veto the SOPA bill and any other future bills that threaten to diminish the free flow of information,” urging the President to reject SOPA and PIPA.
The statement was drawn up by Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff. They made clear that the White House will not support legislation that disrupts the open standards of the Internet.
"While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet," the statement read in part.
The White House statement went on to say, however, that the Obama Administration believes “online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy” and that 2012 should see the passage of narrower legislation that targets the source of foreign copyright infringement.
On Friday, CNET reported that Smith said he will remove from the bill one of the most hotly contested provisions, Domain Name System requirements. Previously, SOPA had called for DNS blocking of infringing websites.
On Thursday, PIPA author Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said that “more study” was needed to asses the bill’s DNS-blocking provision.
The White House’s statement condemned DNS blocking in regulatory efforts and said that it “pose[s] a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.”
A House Oversight Committee hearing on SOPA’s DNS-blocking provision had previously been scheduled for January 18. However, according to Tech Dirt, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) said that the hearing will be postponed for the time being and that the focus now should be placed on the Senate’s PIPA bill, which Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has committed to moving forward in the next two weeks.
h/t: Huffington Post