Posts from United States Senate

The Cybersecurity Act of 2012

The US Senate plans to vote on their version of a cybersecurity bill this coming week. This is the Senate's response to the CISPA bill in the House.

I have yet to hear a compelling reason why we need Cybersecurity legislation and am of the opinion that the perfect answer here is no legislation. However, I am also of the opinion that perfect is often the enemy of the good. And there may be a decent piece of legislation coming out of the Senate this week if, and this is a big if, the Franken and Wyden Amendments are added to the Senate's bill.

The Franken Amendment strikes section 701 from the Senate's bill. Section 701 provides companies with the explicit right to monitor private user communications and engage in countermeasures.

The Wyden Amendment require law enforcement officials to procure a warrant before obtaining location data from a person's cell phone, laptop or other gadgets.

This all may be much ado over nothing as I've been told that the House is not going to pass the Senate's bill and the Senate is not going to pass CISPA. So we may end up with nothing anyway. Which would be fine with me.

But, like PIPA/SOPA, my fear is we are ultimately going to get some legislation on this issue. And so figuring out how to get decent legislation instead of awful legislation seems to be a good idea. Adding the Franken and Wyden Amendments to the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 is one way to achieve that.

There will be a bunch of places you can go to let your elected officials know how you feel about these bills. But most of them will launch tomorrow. As of today, this is the best place online to let yourself be heard on the cybersecurity bill. I will update this post tomorrow as more online advocacy unfolds.


The Free Internet Act

The Reddit community has posted a proposed piece of legislation they call The Free Internet Act on Google Docs. I've just taken a look at it and will need to think about all of these provisions a bit before I have an opinion about whether this is a sensible proposal or not.

But regardless of whether anything comes of this, I want to make a larger point about transparency in government.

A number of NY tech community people met with a US Senator in the USV event space a few weeks ago to give our views on tech issues coming down the pike. At one point in that meeting, the Senator's staff talked to us about the cybersecurity bill, which at that time had not been released. We asked how long it had been in the works. The answer was quite a while. We asked how long would be available for comment once it came out. The answer was about a month. None of this was this Senator's doing. We were just being informed about what was going on and how we should engage in the process. We were encouraged to read the bill and give our elected officials our opinions on it. And we are doing that. You should do the same. The bill is linked to earlier on in this paragraph.

But as we were having this conversation, my partner Albert asked why bills aren't drafted in public. He suggested an approach that is almost identical to the one that the Reddit community has taken with the Free Internet Act. And the Senator's staff said that such radical transparency wasn't likely to develop in Washington any time soon. 

When an important piece of legislation is drafted in secrecy, such that Senators and their staff members don't even know what is going to be in it, and then is put out for voting on a very fast track, people are going to be suspicious. And suspicious citizens don't make for a healthy democracy.

If nothing else comes of this Reddit process, I'd at least hope that we show Washington the power of an open debate, commenting, and editing process. For that reason alone, I'm going to put some real energy into The Free Internet Act. I hope you do too.