In the coming weeks, a new and unprecedented thing just might happen in the U.S. Senate: the Internet will filibuster a bill.
Specifically, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will filibuster a bill — the Protect IP Act, which aims to fundamentally change the structure of the Internet — with a little help from his friends and admirers online.
In a website launched this week by the left-leaning political action committee Demand Progress, Wyden promises that if the Protect IP Act comes up for a vote in the Senate, he will stage an old-school standing filibuster and speak for as long as his lungs have wind.
To bolster his speech, Wyden plans to read off the names of people who stand united with him against proposed rules that would fundamentally change the structure of the Internet.
So far, over 60,000 petition signatures have been collected, his staff said, and that number is growing quickly.
“My boss couldn’t feel more strongly about this issue,” a Wyden aide told Raw Story on Tuesday, stressing that their main goal right now is to prevent the bill from coming up for a vote.
“He will do a standing filibuster, but at this point, we don’t necessarily have the votes to sustain his filibuster,” the aide continued. “Our goal is to continue to slow down this process and continue to educate members of Congress on why [the Protect IP Act is] the wrong approach.”
The names that aren’t read will later be entered into the congressional record.
The Protect IP Act is heavily sponsored by the entertainment industry and the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbying group, which sees it as a means to prevent online piracy, which they claim costs jobs.
But its detractors, companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Aol, see the bill a little differently. While Protect IP — and its House version, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — would make it easier for U.S. authorities to crack down on websites accused of pirating movies, television shows and music, it would also allow the government and copyright owners to disable credit card processing for sites they claim are engaging or enabling copyright infringement, all without a court hearing.
The legislation is so broad it could be used to target online anonymity tools used by human rights activists, according to technology advocacy group The Electronic Frontier Foundation. The software Tor, for instance, which has been used to protect activists in Tunisia and Egypt, could be targeted because it can be used to hide one’s IP address when illegally downloading copyrighted content.
Corporations could also use SOPA claims to force companies to stop processing donations to whistleblower sites like WikiLeaks that post documents protected by copyright or containing trade secrets. The bill would additionally require Internet service providers to “take technically feasible and reasonable measures” to block “rogue” sites from their customers, essentially creating a massive Internet blacklist.
Wyden has been one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of these bills, elements of which have been proposed twice before. Both times, the Oregon Senator placed holds on their progress, effectively shutting them out of contention.
“The ‘at all costs’ approach these bills take to protecting intellectual property sacrifices cyber security while restricting free speech and innovation,” he warned in a video published by Demand Progress. “[These bills] as written are not the answer. Congress needs to hear from more than the lobbyists that write these bills. Congress needs to hear from people like you, who understand the value of a fair and free Internet.”
This video was published by Demand Progress on Nov. 20, 2011.
Photo: Flickr user Kevin Krejci.