The Internet is constantly under attack from those who would seek to control it. This year alone, we have seen numerous attempts to regulate the Internet in the name of safety, security, preventing terrorism or just because outdated businesses can't evolve with the times. That's why it's always refreshing to see somebody in government actually understand the importance of keeping the Internet free from cumbersome and destructive regulation.
Today's Internet warrior is Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who hails from the state of California. She has introduced two new bills into the House that would protect Internet freedoms and give more power to the people. These bills are H.R. 6529 - The ECPA 2.0 Act of 2012 - and H.R. 6530 - The Global Free Internet Act of 2012. These two bills represent some of the best ideas that Washington has ever had in regards to Internet freedoms.
First up is the ECPA 2.0 Act of 2012. We've already gone over the original ECPA and the efforts in the Senate to update the bill to modern standards. Lofgren's bill would be much more comprehensive than the Senate's version and includes some much needed protections for all Americans and their digital communications.
Here's the four basic principles of ECPA 2.0 as described by a fact sheet on Lofgren's Web site:
individual’s private online communications.
wireless communication device.
data about when and with whom an individual communicates using digital services (such as
email or mobile phone calls), the government should demonstrate to a court that such data is
relevant to a criminal investigation.
disclose transactional data about multiple unidentified users of digital services (such as a bulk
request for the names and addresses of everyone that visited a particular website during a
specified time frame). The government may compel this information through a warrant or court order, but subpoenas should specify the individuals about whom the government seeks information.
It all sounds well and good, but the Senate's proposed update, which features even less protection, has already met with stiff resistance from the Department of Justice and law enforcement. They argue that warrantless surveillance of your communication is the only way they can stop bad people from doing unspecified bad things.
The Global Free Internet Act is by far the more interesting of the two bills. She points out that foreign governments alongside the U.S. government "create risks to the global free flow of information, international trade in Internet-related goods and services, and the technical standards that underpin the Internet." In response, she proposes a task force that would help keep the Internet free.
The Global Free Internet Act would create a Task Force on the Global Internet that identifies, prioritizes, and develops a response to policies and practices of the U.S. government, foreign governments, or international bodies that deny fair market access to Internet-related goods and services, or that threaten the technical operation, security, and free flow of global Internet communications. Members of the Task Force include the heads of several executive branch agencies, four U.S. persons nominated by Congressional leadership, and four U.S. persons who are not government employees nominated by the Internet itself. The Task Force would hold public hearings, issue reports no less than annually, and coordinate the activity of the U.S. government to respond to threats to the Internet. When the next SOPA-like legislation, restrictive international trade agreement, or overbroad treaty from an international body becomes a threat, it is the job of this Task Force to sound the alarm and propose a course of action.
The language in this description should be noted for it singles out SOPA, ACTA and TPP as being threats to the Internet. It also suggests that people outside of Washington be appointed to this task force by average citizens who use the Internet. It's ambitious, aggressive and just what the Internet needs. Unfortunately, money talks louder than words and various lobbying groups have proven that they're willing to throw more money than they have to keep the Internet on a tight leash.
Regardless, these bills at least present the idea that people in Washington actually care about a free and open Internet. The Internet was added to each party's official platforms at their respective conventions, but neither actually laid out any firm plans on how to protect the Internet. Our most beloved commodity needs to rely on Internet warriors like Rep. Lofgren and Sen. Ron Wyden to make it through the next few tumultuous years.
TechDirt has supplied both bills in their entirety. You can read them below.
ECPA Act 2.0 of 2012
Global Free Internet Act