This article was published on February 12, 2013

The Internet Association: Strong on paper, but as yet untested in war

The Internet Association: Strong on paper, but as yet untested in war
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

Recently published on the pages of The Next Web is an editorial piece by the Internet Association, a group that claims to represent the core group of Internet companies and their policy wishes. As far as words go, the piece is worth reading. That in mind, it’s not the sort of entry that goes down well without added external context, so let us take a moment to examine its promulgated ideas.

The Internet Association (IA) – a deliciously immodest name that it manages to live up to – is comprised of roughly every technology company with a strong online presence except Apple and Microsoft. That said, any group that can count Facebook, Google, and Amazon among its members is an organization worth listening to.

The piece in question does it best to explain why the Internet matters, before explaining what should and should not be done. I take it on confidence that you don’t need to have that explained to you. You already know why the Internet matters, both commercially and socially.

It is the view of the IA that SOPA, and its brother legislation PIPA, represented an “effort in Congress to censor web content and fundamentally alter the Internet’s DNA.” This is correct. However, it is worth noting that the Internet Association launched late last year, far past that battle. Put another way, the IA took no part in the SOPA struggle as a unit that represents a great piece of the Internet industry.

And given its supreme youth, the ability of the IA to operate, forcefully, along the lines that it has set for itself regarding legislative policy remain untested; if it will manage to successfully stand against Congressional pressure and maintain order in its diffuse ranks isn’t a given.

As an example of this, the Business Software Alliance, after suffering defections, had to change its stance on SOPA. It’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which Google and Facebook are on opposite sides of a privacy issue.

The IA manifesto reads as a proclamation of openness: patent trolls are bad, information should flow freely across borders, cybersecurity is key, but must be regulated in a way that fits the Internet as a unique entity. Also, more people should be given access to the Internet in the United States!

All of that is well and good, but it’s important to note that the IA hasn’t yet proved itself as a group that can directly influence the arc of legislation. It will enjoy its first test tomorrow, when the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is reintroduced in the House. The bill fails the IA’s stated view on cybersecurity, in that it lacks ‘minimum standards’ for critical infrastructure. But even more, CISPA as a bill was a privacy abomination in its past introduction, and as it will return now in the same format, will contain the same weaknesses.

Thus, CISPA should be an easy first opponent for the IA. How effectively they can spend, organize, and push back is now not something to be speculated upon, but watched. When the IA was put together, TNW commented positively on its ideals and intentions. Thinking properly, however, isn’t enough. The IA has behind one of the most impressive collections of Internet firms perhaps ever assembled. And those companies are, often, quite cash rich. In short, they should not lack any resource that they wish.

It will be a very busy year for technology legislation. The IA appears to be an ally in keeping the Internet open, and speech thereof free. However, how effective a friend they will be is soon to be answered.

CISPA lands tomorrow. Let’s get into it.

Image credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

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