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SOPA/PIPA: Lessons Learned

Limited Tweets Better Than No Tweets

Drones Over America

Featured on Policy Beta

February 16, Washington, DC - Mark Stanley will be on a Social Media Week panel entitled "Who was Really Behind Internet Blackout Day? A SOPA & PIPA Case Study & Happy Hour"

February 21, Las Vegas, NV - Deven McGraw will speak on a panel at the HIMSS Annual Conference on Trends and Recent Developments in Patient Privacy

February 24, San Francisco, CA - Jim Dempsey will deliver the keynote of the USF Law Symposium on Big Brother in the 21st Century, with Kevin Bankston as a panelist.


While Washington is still sorting out the implications of the SOPA/PIPA fight, some lessons are already clear, as we outline below. Twitter's decision to censor certain tweets shook the "Twitterverse," but upon inspection the company's new policy displays a delicate balance. When it comes to surveillance drones in American skies, balance is exactly what is lacking so far.

SOPA/PIPA: Lessons Learned

The unprecedented online reaction against PIPA and SOPA, the copyright bills tabled last month in the face of swelling opposition, is pregnant with implications for the future of Internet policymaking and grassroots activism. It may be too early to say for sure what this dramatic turn means for Washington's future forays into Internet policy, but it is not too soon to debunk some of the spin and to suggest a few lessons learned. In a recent ABC News column, CDT President Leslie Harris offered these thoughts:

  1. The online revolt against SOPA and PIPA was not a command and control operation. Don't believe the claim that Google (or anyone else) orchestrated such diverse efforts and participants.
  2. In the future, Congress would be wise to tread cautiously regarding any action that might be viewed as detrimental to the Internet's open, participatory nature.
  3. Internet policymaking requires a more open process, avoiding both the reality and the perception that legislation is the product of backroom dealing by (and for) industry lobbyists.
  4. Ignorance about how the Internet works is no longer an option for government officials. Congress needs to engage with the technical community and take its advice seriously.
  5. The whole world is watching the US policy process. The Internet community does not reside solely within US borders. US decisions on Internet blocking will have effects around the world, and people around the world care.

Limited Tweets Better Than No Tweets

Are human rights and democracy better served if an Internet company declines to provide any service in a country with restrictive laws (or is blocked entirely) or if the company restricts some content in order to remain otherwise accessible? That was the question facing Twitter when it announced recently that it will make some tweets inaccessible to users in countries where the content of those Tweets would be illegal. Twitter's move highlighted a dilemma that many tech companies face: governments demand that the companies comply with local content laws, and if the companies refuse to comply, they risk being blocked from the country entirely, broadly limiting citizens' access to information. There is often no single right answer. Faced with the hard challenges about how to operate in a global legal environment, Twitter adopted a thoughtful, measured policy.

Drones Over America

Earlier this month, Congress quietly and without debate passed legislation requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to draft rules allowing drones to fly in US airspace for government and private sector purposes. Congress required the FAA to issue guidance on drone safety, but it said nothing about the privacy or transparency implications of filling the sky with flying robots. As CDT has noted, drones are powerful surveillance platforms capable of being outfitted with facial recognition cameras, license plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras, open WiFi sniffers, and other sensors. Without clear privacy rules, public and private use of drones will bring unparalleled physical surveillance. Without transparency requirements, citizens will not even know who owns the drone watching them from above.

Lungren Cybersecurity Bill Takes Balanced Approach

A House subcommittee has reported legislation by Rep. Dan Lungren to promote information sharing for cybersecurity purposes. In CDT's view, the Lungren bill (the PRECISE Act, H.R. 3674) effectively balances cybersecurity, innovation, privacy, and the needs of industry.

European Commission Proposes Stronger Data Privacy Legislation

The European Commission has issued its long-awaited proposal to update the 1995 Data Protection Directive, the primary instrument governing personal privacy in Europe. CDT, which is expanding its engagement in EU policy debates, will be commenting on the proposal, which aims to strengthen privacy rights and enforcement while harmonizing the law across all of Europe.

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