Would the fight for Internet freedom get you to vote? That’s the hope of a new voter registration drive labeled “Internet Votes.”
Launched today, the initiative has been organized by the Center For Rights and Fight For The Future. The two non-partisan advocacy groups organized some of the protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) as well as the Internet Defense League.
With this new initiative they hope to make Internet freedom a more prominent issue in this year’s presidential election. Through InternetVotes.org you can quickly register to vote and the website also provides code to include a widget on your website to get more people to register. The website also encourages netizens to use the hashtag #internetvotes.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights advocacy group, featured the initiative in a Monday night blog post titled “Stop the Next SOPA and CISPA: Register to Vote for Internet Freedom.” In a phone interview with Mashable, the author of the blog post, Trevor Timm, said that people showed how much they care at the beginning of the year with the massive protests against SOPA. Also, according to him, if either party really came out with a strong stance on consumer rights regarding personal data protection, “they could really get somewhere with voters.”
In the post Timm suggests that by voting and supporting Internet freedom netizens could get to help pass key legislation. The EFF activists highlighted three key issues.
First, patent reform. Rep. DeFazio proposed a bill that “would fix much of the broken patent system that is engulfing giant tech companies in billion dollar patent suits and paralyzing up-and-coming companies with legal costs,” wrote Timm.
The second issue is email privacy. As it stands right now, emails don’t enjoy 4th Amendment protections like regular mail. That means that law-enforcement agencies don’t need a warrant to access your electronic conversations. Currently both the House and the Senate are discussing bills to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. In the Senate the fix was proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy and is attached to the reform of the old Video Privacy Protection Act. If approved, it would require law-enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant to obtain data stored in the cloud, including emails. This change would be in accordance with a federal appeals court that ruled in 2010 that emails should indeed be protected.
Recently, senators decided to delay discussion on the proposal after the National Sheriff’s Association asked to reconsider “until a more comprehensive review of its impact on law enforcement investigations is conducted.”
Lastly, Timm referred to the GPS Act, which would force police to obtain a warrant to get cellphone location data. Noting that authorities demanded cellphone users’ information more than 1.3 million times last year, Timm thinks that your smartphone is “one of the most privacy invasive tools out there,” and accessing your geo-location data should be protected by the 4th amendment.
Personal Democracy Media announced its collaboration in the initiative on Sept. 19, with a blog post penned by Micah Sifry on TechPresident. Referring to a new study that shows Facebook can increase voter turnout, Sifry underlined the power of social media and the importance of voting. “If you’re an Internet user,” he wrote, “you’re already pretty familiar with the need to register to use your favorite websites. And you’re also probably voting pretty often on those sites, by rating things or upvoting links. So why not make sure you’re registered to vote on the most important site of all – your polling place on Election Day?”
After the January 18 protests against the two controversial bills that made Wikipedia blackout and Google put a black banner on its logo, Internet freedom has never been as popular as it is now. Both Democrats andRepublicans have included calls for freedom online in their platforms.
It’s unclear what this commitment to Internet freedom will actually mean and what particular policies the two parties support.
With the Internet Votes initiative, online freedom advocates hope to change that.
Do you think Internet freedom is an important issue in the presidential election? Are you going to vote with that in mind? Tell us in the comments.