US Internet lobby groups have been making the headlines in the country of late. Ever since the launch of FWD.us, pronounced forward US, the advocacy group that includes Mark Zuckerberg and other powerful names in Silicon Valley and aims to push the industry’s agenda on matters concerning immigration and education in D.C., technology seems to be at the forefront of political news.
The recent development with CISPA had again put technology on the political news agenda, and late last week, several outlets reported that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were joining Zuckerberg’s cause, adding their names to the long list of supporters that the group already boasts.
The latest lobby group to make it into the news is the Internet Association, a lobbying effort fronted by Michael Beckerman and that works towards preserving the interests of the Internet industry members. According to its website, the IA’s members include a range of Web heavyweights, such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and eBay.
The IA has released a statement today, condemning reports that the FBI is seeking to gain more powers against Internet companies by notably requiring them to install online surveillance backdoors at the risk of being penalised.
The statement, which was made by the president and CEO, Michael Beckerman, reads as follows:
“The Department of Justice has not made the case for granting law enforcement broad new powers over Internet companies for purposes of new wiretap authority. There are a number of serious unintended consequences with this flawed proposal. A wiretap mandate for the Internet is dead on arrival.”
What is clear from the emergence of FWD.us, the CISPA-related blackouts and now the elevation of IA’s status is that the Internet industry is finally making itself heard in Washington. And the new power players reflect the shift that the industry has seen in recent years; Facebook’s heavy presence in the lobbying scene can be seen as a parallel to its place in today’s Internet economy.
More worrying is the fact that the US government and other federal bodies have been trying to push for stricter control over online activity. CISPA passed the House last week, and now these reports about the FBI seeking more power over companies, it may be time to really fear for the neutrality of the net.
The draft proposal would make online communications more easily intercept-able, just like phone communications have been following the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. Companies would have to comply with the demands of government agencies to intercept user communications or face the consequences of heavy fines, which will start in the region of tens of thousands of dollars, quickly escalating over time.
Pressure already exists on companies such as Twitter and Facebook to hand over data and personal inter-user communications, but, if such a proposal were to be passed, it would make the process easier for government agencies and harder for Internet companies to ignore.
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