Early this year, we saw the internet community rise up to defeat a threatening piece of legislation with the blackout of popular websites in an opposition to SOPA. But as the months go by, it seems that congress is bent on hurting the most impressive machine humanity has ever created. The most recent proposals of ACTA and CISPA have pushed a few internet freedom activists to try and form a way to regularly hold the SOPA style mass protests.
One of these activists is none other than Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit. He’s partnered with the advocacy group Fight for the Future to create an “Internet Defense League,” or in Ohanian’s words, a “bat signal for the internet.” The plan is to launch it next month.
What this warning system does is allow any website owner to sign up on the group’s website to add some code to their site. This code will then be triggered in the case of a political crisis like SOPA and will add an activist call-to-action in the form of a widget or banner asking users to sign a petition, call their representatives or boycott certain companies. According to Tiffiny Cheng who’s the co-director of Internet Fight for the Future, it could even go as far as the blackout technique that was used to turn the tide against SOPA. She went on to hint that the code could take over the entire appearance of willing sites so as to put up a united opposition to the proposed legislation: ”We’re creating the tools and the forms of protest that allow for viral organizing. That’s how the SOPA protests were able to get started and grow to the level they did.”
So basically, this system is an automated way to disperse information on net-threatening legislation that’s working its way through congress before it’s too late. As Ohanian put it,
People who wish to be tapped can see, oh look, the Bat-Signal is up. Time to do something. Whatever website you own, this is a way for you to be notified if something comes up and take some basic actions…If we aggregate everyone that’s doing it, the numbers start exploding.”
Companies that have already signed up include Reddit, Imgur, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Cheezburger Network, Mozilla and the non-profit Public Knowledge. Not a bad start. The hope is that eventually thousands of sites, even as small as someone’s Tumblr page will opt in to the project.
This proposed system is a really great way to stay vigilant against the growing threats to internet freedom emanating from congress. As Ohanian pointed out, the main challenge in staying vigilant against these types of laws is a long-term goal as opposed to beating any one piece of legislation. “You can only cry ‘Oh my gosh, they’re going to shut down the Internet so often,” he said. “We’ve scared Congress from doing anything as egregious as SOPA and PIPA again. But the new challenge is this endless series of smaller bills that try to unravel internet rights.”
Most recently Ohanian and Fight for the Future have been focusing on fighting CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protect Act. This bill allows companies to hand over any user data to the government without regard for any existing privacy laws, on grounds as vague as to prevent computer “crime” or for “the protection of individuals from the danger of death or serious bodily harm.” One of the Senate versions of the proposed legislation is coming up for vote in early June. You can join in the fight for internet privacy and freedom at privacyisawesome.com
This alert system could be a way to foster a new level of engagement between internet users and Congress that emphasizes digital rights and either educated ignorant politicians (of which there are many) on Internet issues or help push them out of office.
One of the greatest sentiments about this bat-signal for the internet is people will fight for their freedoms. As Ohanian pointed out “SOPA and PIPA proved: That still, in the face of everything else that’s screwed up in Washington, we the American people can fix things.”