How SOPA protests were used to push CISPA

CISPA authors and supporters have tried everything they can to avoid another SOPA protest - except tell the truth about their bill.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

The last thing authors and supporters of dangerous cybersecurity bill CISPA wanted was another SOPA on their hands.


CISPA's authors and supporters set up a defensive strategy to head off the whiff of another SOPA by taking notes from the protest. And they may have succeeded.

Here's how.

SOPA protest lesson #1: influence Silicon Valley tech media

In the beginning, CISPA's authors unconvincingly tried to spin CISPA as being nothing like SOPA in press briefings. Not for clarification - merely to distance the bill from SOPA's reputation.

After all, if SOPA was black and white to tech press, then making CISPA grey would certainly be an advantage.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and CISPA's co-author Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) staged a conference call to influence tech reporters whom they actually called "Cyber Media and Cyber Bloggers."

Most of what they told tech press about CISPA, as we have now learned, was patently untrue.

Techdirt reported that during the 7 am call,

(...) the representatives were intent on hammering certain points home: that the bill respects privacy and civil liberties, is not about surveillance, is targeted at actions by foreign states, and is nothing like SOPA.

Evidently some "Cyber Media" fell for it, because it took until April 13 for CISPA to start hitting mainstream media via tech media channels, and only then did it make any loud noise when comparisons to SOPA were made.

SOPA protest lesson #2: pretend to care

Pro-CISPA factions' intent to head off another SOPA-style protest crystallized when I attended and livetweeted the small CISPA Town Hall Meeting with House Intelligence last week here in San Francisco (arranged by Hackers and Founders).

CISPA's people seem to have learned from SOPA that trying to ram an internet bill down our throats didn't work out so well last time.

So this time they were open to hearing our concerns.

Okay, not really. But here's how they pretended to listen to our serious concerns when we got two pro-CISPA reps from Washington face-to-face last week.

A pro-CISPA senior U.S. House of Representatives aide and pro-CISPA senior counsel to the House Intelligence Committee Jamil Jaffer appeared via Google Hangout at the last-minute Town Hall.

After hearing what they had to say in response to our concerns, they could barely pretend they were there for little more than lip service.

Near the end, many of us in the room were laughing in nervous disbelief at their cavalier and dismissive responses.

We were told there was robust discussion about the bill and that the idea internet communities hate it is false. The room was told that CISPA has been a transparent and accountable process.

Questions about the NSA and potential abuse of private data and information sharing for individuals were ignored. Instead the room was told that privacy and civil liberties are a "new element" for them to consider in the future.

When asked about what they meant by concrete threats, the pro-CISPA rep conflated cybersecurity with infringement, and that China is a big major cybersecurity threat to intellectual property that needs protection under the bill.

Above all, they insisted that "no one" wants to stop this bill - at a time when there were 3/4 million signatures on the Stop CISPA petition.

The pro-CISPA reps demonstrated repeatedly that not only were they there for lip service and misdirection, they actually had no technical knowledge of what they were talking about.

The EFF's Dan Auerbaugh concluded afterward that "Congress just doesn't know enough to meddle intelligently with technology. The audience questions demonstrated this point quite sharply (...)"

SOPA protest lesson #3: make SOPA critics look like allies

Attempting to influence tech media into un-SOPA-ing CISPA is one way to get critics in your pocket. Tech press and bloggers are one major arena that the wider public looked to during SOPA for calls to action and guidance.

Another arena that got SOPA launched into consciousness and gave the protest firm footing was when major technology companies and website "utilities" like Wikipedia joined the anti-SOPA choir.

As we know, CISPA came out strong from the start with 28 large tech companies backing it: complete with letters of support from anti-SOPA corporations such as Facebook.

When it looked like CISPA was faltering, its author Rep. Mike Rogers made sure to alert the press that previously anti-SOPA Google (a company whose lack of support letter was getting anti-CISPA traction) not only completely supports CISPA, but that Google helped with the authoring of the bill.

I'll bet that right now, even though CISPA has passed the House with changes making it even more dangerous than before, Rogers and Co. would love nothing more than to get a leg up from Wikipedia.

China, indeed.

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