Web activists celebrate ‘Internet Freedom Day’


FILE Protester Nadine Wolf demonstrates against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) on January 18, 2012 in New York City. (Mario Tama/GETTY IMAGES)
January 18, 2013

One year ago, Web activists were celebrating the end of two Internet piracy bills. This year, while they’re taking time to remember a victory over the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP (Intellectual Property) Act, they’ve also got their eyes on a larger fight.

Friday, Jan. 18, is now known as “Internet Freedom Day,” organized by the groups that rallied an unexpected force of Internet users to support the concept of the open Web.

As part of Internet Freedom Day, Web advocacy groups are asking for people to take that momentum to a variety of causes, including demanding updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, sending letters to the House and Senate Judiciary committees to ask them to support an open Web and participating in a University of California study about Internet activism.

In the year since the fight over SOPA and PIPA, there have been a few additional victories for open Internet advocates, notably decisions from Republicans and Democrats to put a commitment to an open Internet in their political platforms.

The day’s activities and actions are also tinged with sadness, as many groups are dedicating their efforts to the memory of one of their own, Aaron Swartz, and advocate for changes to federal computer fraud law. He was best known as the co-author of the technology behind RSS and an early force in the creation of Reddit.

Swartz, who was found dead in his apartment last week of an apparent suicide, was facing charges for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Those violations carried the possibility of 35 years in prison and a million-dollar fine, though the U.S. Attorney overseeing the case, Carmen Ortiz, said in a statement this week that her office never intended to pursue the maximum penalty.

In response to his death, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) has circulated a draft bill that she is calling “Aaron’s Law,” which proposes that cases in which users have violated online terms of service fall under the jurisdiction of civil courts. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a lawmaker who was very prominent in the fight against SOPA and PIPA, has also said that he will lead an investigation into how the Justice Department handled Swartz’s case. Issa is the chairman of the House Oversight committee.

Related stories:

With SOPA gone, setting Internet advocacy’s next stop

Web sites go dark in SOPA protest against plans to ban online piracy

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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