Internet Defense League Ready to Battle CISPA, Other Internet Threats

The new organization is designed to work as an early-warning system against federal legislation the group thinks will endanger privacy and freedom on the Web.

Some of the organizers of the Internet protest that led to Congress ditching the controversial SOPA and PIPA legislation in January are now looking to make it easier to fight back against similar federal bills.

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the social media site Reddit, and Fight for the Future have created the Internet Defense League, a new group whose mission is to battle federal legislation that they believe will undermine privacy online or threaten the Internet in any way.

The Internet Defense League will do this by signing up Websites to support the mission. If the group detects another threat to the Internet€”in the form of Congressional action or some other way€”it will send code to the member businesses, which can then use that embedded code by adding it to their Websites. Ohanian told that code would be used a number of ways, but essentially asking users to take action€”sign petitions, call a legislator or boycott a company.

€œWhen the Internet€™s in danger and we need millions of people to act, the League will ask its members to broadcast an action (Say, a prominent message asking everyone to call their elected leaders),€ the group said on its Website. €œWith the combined reach of our Websites and social networks, we can be massively more effective than any one organization.€

The group €œtakes the tactic that killed SOPA & PIPA and turns it into a permanent force for defending the Internet, and making it better. Think of it like the Internet€™s Emergency Broadcast System, or its bat signal.€

The group reportedly already has some organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Public Knowledge, Mozilla and WordPress, signed up and ready to go.

The protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) reached its zenith when sites like Wikipedia, Reddit and others blacked out their pages for as long as 24 hours, and Google and Mozilla posted links to petitions that users could sign to be sent to Congress. Privacy advocacy groups, including the EFF, also offered users ways to show their feelings against the proposed measures.

According to Wikipedia, about 162 million people came to the site€™s blacked-out landing page. Meanwhile, Google officials said about 4.5 million signed its petition asking lawmakers to reject SOPA and PIPA, and Twitter said there were 2.4 million SOPA-related posts on the site during the first 16 hours of the strike.

The protest€”which involved as many as 7,000 sites€”helped convince some lawmakers to change their votes on SOPA and PIPA, which eventually died. SOPA was designed to protect copyright holders by forcing Internet service providers to block access to sites accused of distributing counterfeit content. PIPA had similar aims.

However, online entities and privacy advocates are now railing against CISPA€”the Cyber-Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act€”a cyber-threat bill that opponents say threatens the privacy of online users. Proponents say CISPA would improve the defense against cyber-attacks by making it easier for government agencies and private businesses to share information regarding threats. Several large tech and communications vendors€”including Facebook, AT&T, Microsoft and Intel€”have thrown their support behind the measure, saying it would enable them to make the Internet safer for all users.

Some trade associations, such as TechAmerica and CTIA, also support the bill.

Opponents, including the Civil Liberties Union, say the bill would give the government far too much access to the personal information of Internet users.

€œEveryone agrees that network security is important, but a thinly disguised mass surveillance bill won€™t help address the needs of our country in defending our networks,€ Rainey Reitman, activism director at EFF, said in a May 24 post on the organization€™s blog.

The Internet Defense League will make its formal debut the week of June 5, when Congress comes back into session. CISPA passed the House in April despite protests by opponents and the threat of a veto from the Obama administration, and now the Senate could take up the measure.