Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser, became this week the world’s loudest critic of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a bill that would give the National Security Agency (NSA) open access to Internet companies’ private user data.
Mozilla, along with Reddit, Wikipedia and Google, led the successful push-back against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), but the nonprofit does not make a habit of opposing legislation. When it does, however, Mozilla can be devastatingly effective: in its last protest, the group said it reached more than 30 million individual people simply by blacking out its start page. Mozilla bragged that another 10 million saw their anti-SOPA messages on social media, for a total reach of 40 million.
Though Mozilla has been entirely silent on CISPA, that all changed on Tuesday.
“While we wholeheartedly support a more secure Internet, CISPA has a broad and alarming reach that goes far beyond Internet security,” a Mozilla spokesman told Andy Greenberg at Forbes.
“The bill infringes on our privacy, includes vague definitions of cybersecurity, and grants immunities to companies and government that are too broad around information misuse,” Mozilla added. “We hope the Senate takes the time to fully and openly consider these issues with stakeholder input before moving forward with this legislation.”
That puts Mozilla in an interesting position: It has become the only major tech firm to break with supporters of CISPA. Because of their unique status, the browser-maker finds itself with an opportunity to help lead the charge against the bill, which is still supported by companies like Facebook, IBM, AT&T, Intel, Verizon and Symantec.
They’re joined by a group of 51 tech professionals, including a former BitTorrent executive who created credit card verification systems still in use today, who recently wrote an open letter to Congress beseeching lawmakers to look for a different path on cybersecurity. They warned that CISPA would unnecessarily “nullify current legal protections against wiretapping and similar civil liberties violations.”
Mozilla, better known for its tech than its political advocacy, has been increasingly outspoken on public policy since CEO Gary Kovacs arrived on the scene in 2010, replacing former Mozilla CEO John Lilly. At the 2012 South by Southwest Interactive convention in Austin, Texas, he summarized his thoughts on the company’s successful opposition to SOPA by saying, “If you don’t understand the Internet, you don’t have any place in government.”
“We enabled 30 million people to take action,” Kovacs boasted, adding that he views Mozilla’s secondary role as protector of the Internet. “Thirty million people are not nerds. Thirty million people are citizens.”
While CISPA has passed the House of Representatives, it faces a more difficult trek through the Senate, where two competing bills seek to accomplish the same ends through different means. President Barack Obama is expected to veto CISPA if it does not better safeguard the privacy of American Internet users.
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