The January 18th blackout protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) was an unprecedented event in Internet history. Within 24 hours, dangerous and draconian copyright legislation went from being a forgone conclusion in Congress to completely rejected by its members. Still, many observers have remarked that, despite the protest’s effectiveness, the result was a fluke. It was a perfect storm of companies and people coming together that could not be replicated, they've said, and nothing has really changed.
But at least three post-SOPA events in the last six months tell a different story: that the protection of digital civil liberties is a central issue to many voters. And there’s an easy way for 2012 electoral candidates to let those voters know they share that concern: sign the Declaration of Internet Freedom.
1. The Death of ACTA in the EU
Almost immediately after the successful SOPA blackout, protests organically sprung up around the world opposing the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a restrictive intellectual property treaty that was negotiated in almost complete secrecy. While most of the negotiating countries had already signed ACTA, citizens of Europe—inspired by the American reaction to SOPA—started raising alarm online and took to the streets by the tens of thousands. This public outrage not only signaled disappointment in the extremist IP policies, but was also a rejection of the secretive, government-directed process that spawned the agreement in the first place.
Protesters saw immediate results: individual countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany started backing off support for the agreement. The EU president criticized it, and the investigator in charge of making policy recommendations to the European Parliament advocated for voting against it. Two weeks ago, the Parliament overwhelmingly voted it down, effectively ending a treaty that had been negotiated under the radar for more than 4 years and had, until recently, been thought of as inevitable.
2. Removal of a backdoor SOPA provision in CISPA
The debate surrounding CISPA, the House’s dangerous cybersecurity bill, also showed the new strength of Internet’s collective voice. An early version of the bill contained a clause regarding “the theft of intellectual property” that could have legalized measures similar to SOPA. But when the comparisons hit the media, Rep. Rogers was so desperate to get rid of the SOPA moniker, he took the IP clause completely out of a bill.
This is an important sea change in the way Congress has approached copyright. In the past restrictive intellectual property clauses have been put into bills to get support. Now Congress is finding out they have to take IP clauses out just to avoid having bills collapse.
While the House regrettably voted to pass the bill in May, a protest in the bill’s last week of debate led to an explosion of opposition. When co-sponsors started switching their votes to oppose CISPA, Rep. Mike Rogers was forced to move the vote up a day just to get the bill through.
And the results of the protest can now be felt in the Senate, where their just-released version of the cybersecurity bill fixes many of the privacy problems found in CISPA. You can contact your Senators here to tell them to support the new privacy amendments.
3. No More Data Retention Bill
Another bill Internet activists immediately set their eyes on post-SOPA was a mandatory data retention bill disguised as the “The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act,” pushed by SOPA author Lamar Smith. The original version of this bill mandated ISPs retain all sorts of information on every Internet user—even those never accused of a crime—for law enforcement to access without court oversight. Rep. Zoe Lofgren remarked it should be renamed, “The Keep Every American's Digital Data for Submission to the Federal Government Without a Warrant Act."
After the SOPA protests, Rep. Smith scaled back the bill to force ISPs to only keep IP addresses for a year—a less draconian measure, yet still a huge privacy violation. But in the newest version of the bill, Smith, perhaps fearful of another Internet backlash, completely removed the data retention provision.
Of course, as we stated when we first explained the importance of the Declaration, the Internet is winning more battles, but we haven’t won the war. Congress is still attempting to pass several bills that would have restrictive effects on ordinary user’s Internet freedom, and that means we need to hold their feet to the fire throughout this campaign season.
The first thing you can do: Ask candidates for office in 2012 to help us protect our Internet and sign the Declaration of Internet Freedom. In addition, Free Press is encouraging everyone to hold an “Internet BBQ” this summer to discuss the Declaration and spread the word among your friends. You can also join the new Internet Defense League, which aims to act as an early warning system for new threats to Internet freedom.