Tonight at 9 pm eastern, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will participate in the first of three presidential debates before the election on November 6th. Both Democrats and Republicans gave a general nod to Internet freedom in their party platforms for the first time this year, but we have yet to hear many specifics from either candidate.
Below are 14 questions—three for President Obama, three for Governor Romney, and eight for both candidates—we’d like to see answered in detail. Also, do not forget to go here and register to vote for Internet freedom on November 6th.
Questions for Barack Obama:
- You promised to be the “most transparent administration in history,” yet government secrecy is at an all time high, and a recent survey showed 19 out of 20 agencies failed to follow the law under the Freedom of Information Act. Why have you not followed through on your promise and how do you plan to change in the second term?
- You have recently supported the reauthorization of both the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act, two laws you previously opposed before you were president, citing how they violated Americans’ civil liberties. Why have you not sought to reform those bills as promised and will you in the future?
- Under your administration, the Department of Homeland Security has unilaterally seized the domain names of many websites without due process on flimsy evidence of copyright infringement. No charges were filed and some of the domains were handed back a year later with no explanation. Do you believe this censorship tactic violates the First Amendment?
Questions for Mitt Romney:
- The Republican platform calls for “full constitutional protection” from “government overreach” of personal data. Yet the Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly supported CISPA, which carved a huge hole in existing privacy laws in the name of cybersecurity. Do you support allowing companies to hand over personal information of its customers to the government like CISPA would have?
- You’ve also previously supported the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act—the former of which weakens digital privacy protections and the latter of which allows for warrantless wiretapping of Americans overseas communications. Do you support reform of these bills to protect Americans’ privacy from government overreach, as your party’s platform states? Do these bills violate the Constitution?
- In 2007, you stated on the campaign trail on two different occasions that you would you require porn filters to be installed on all new computers sold in the United States. Won’t that violate the First Amendment and do you still support that policy?
Questions for Both Candidates:
- A tremendous (and growing) amount of credible public evidence shows that the government has built a massive program that gives the NSA unfettered and warrantless access to the communications and communications records of ordinary Americans. Do you believe this is consistent with the Fourth Amendment? Do you believe that the courts should be able to decide whether widespread, non-targeted domestic surveillance is legal or constitutional?
- Do you believe that the publication of truthful information on a matter of public importance is protected by the First Amendment? If so, doesn’t it protect WikiLeaks when it publishes classified information in the public interest, just as it protects the New York Times and Wall Street Journal?
- The nation’s core electronic privacy law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), was enacted in 1986—before the World Wide Web was invented—and provides weaker privacy protections than are required for physical mail and phone calls. Will you support efforts to update the law to require a warrant before the government can demand a person’s stored emails, location information, their address books, the websites they visit and similar information stored across the web?
- In January, Americans protested the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which would have allowed large swaths of the Internet to be censored in the name of overzealous copyright enforcement. Do you pledge that you will veto a similar bill, or any other bill that allows corporations or government to censor the Internet without due process?
- There is ample evidence the patent system, particularly when it comes to software patents, is broken and actively hurting the economy. Do you have plans to reform the patent system so big companies can free themselves of billion dollar lawsuits, and startups do not have to worry about patent trolls?
- Last year alone, law enforcement officials demanded Americans’ cell phone location data at least 1.5 million times, and in the vast majority of those cases, they did so without a warrant. Do you believe Americans should have a reasonable expectation of privacy when carrying their cell phone, given it can map a person’s exact movements for weeks or months at a time?
- The FAA estimates as many as 30,000 drones will be flying over U.S. skies by the end of the decade. What privacy safeguards will your administration support to ensure Americans’ privacy is not violated by surveillance drones operated by law enforcement?
- The Wall Street Journal reports that the nation's 50 top websites installed, on average, 64 pieces of tracking technology onto the computers of visitors, usually with no warning. This enables online advertisers to gain detailed knowledge of a user's Internet browsing activity over time. Do you believe users have a right to protect their online privacy by opting out of such tracking, for example by turning on a Do Not Track setting in their browsers?
Once again, do not forget to go here and register to vote for Internet freedom on November 6th.