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Redditors Suspicious Of Congressman Issa's No New Internet Regs Proposal

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, November 29 2012

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)'s Legislative Director Laurent Crenshaw and Issa at a PDF cocktail party this June

Several Redditors reacted skeptically Wednesday to California House Republican Darrell Issa's town-hall visit to the online forum advocating a new bill that would put a two-year moratorium on new Internet regulations.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced a new bill Monday evening that would put a two-year moratorium on any "new laws, rules, or regulations governing the Internet." Issa posted the discussion draft of the proposed legislation on his crowdsourcing legislative platform, Madison, Monday night, and used the community news site Reddit during the Wednesday "Ask Me Anything" session to direct its members' attention to the legislative proposal.

Section three of the proposed legislation says: "After 90 days of passage of this Act no Department or Agency of the United States shall publish new rules or regulations, or finalize or otherwise enforce or give lawful effect to draft rules or regulations affecting the Internet until a period of at least 2 years from the enactment of this legislation has elapsed."

That would mean that agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, which is constantly going through rule-making procedures regarding the nation's communications infrastructure, would not be able to enact any new rules.

House Republicans have been hoping to court the "Internet vote," a constituency that rallied earlier this year against the entertainment industry-sponsored Stop Online Piracy Act, and its Senate companion the PROTECT IP Act, which would have required the blacklisting and blocking of domain names suspected of copyright infringement without a formal court process. Issa, a member if the House Judiciary Committee that was considering the legislation, was one of the leading opponents of the controversial legislation. For example, the party adopted an "Internet Freedom" plank as part of its party platform during its convention this summer. More recently, a Republican Study Committee policy brief (which has since been retracted) effectively reversed the party's decades-long party line that copyright exists solely as the right of property owners.

It's against this backdrop that Issa made appeal Wednesday, but Reddit didn't appear to buy what he was selling. Instead, several of them pointed to his support for an Internet surveillance bill, the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Act as proof that he wasn't for a "free" (as in freedom from surveillance) Internet.

A question asking why Issa supported CISPA was the most popular question on the list posed to the congressman by Redditors, with 1,963 votes as of Wednesday.

"He's a wolf in sheep's clothing," wrote another Redditor, "teraken." "He doesn't support SOPA, but was a co-sponsor of CISPA because it wasn't as widely publicized. He's been constantly lying to everybody regarding his stance on net neutrality for the past two years."

On a question about CISPA and net neutrality, Issa referred Redditors to an interview he gave to Nancy Scola for the Atlantic.

"Ultimately cybersecurity includes those communications that tell all our power companies how to coordinate how much they put into the grid," Issa said at the time, regarding CISPA. "And of course, immediately they say, 'Well, we have to do it for them.' But for them it's still just one Internet."

Still many others thought the proposed rule would roll back the administration's net neutrality rules, which House Republicans (including Issa) have vehemently opposed.

"This sounds like a backdoor toward preventing net neutrality to me. Stopping Congress from regulating anything is just a free pass to the companies that run the show," wrote "Danny Ray." "This would allow companies like twc and att to do whatever they please. Net neutrality, gone. Important decisions like 3-strikes would be left to courts and the companies that implement them. This bill only stops the government from regulating the internet. Why not stop companies from regulating it the way they feel as well."

On net neutrality, Issa said in that interview:

I think the FCC exceeded its defined authority. If they wanted authority, they should have asked for it, not taken it. I feel very strongly about that. They've come in as a regulator rather than simply issuing, if you will, a standards warning.

I don't want to have my traffic slowed down so that a competitor can get ahead of me. We understand that. But the FCC did it in a way in which they view it as an opportunity to regulate and regulate a lot. I don't think Congress gave them that authority nor should have.

Months later, though, Redditors were not always offering the most polite comments. The Congressman took it all in stride. He also pointed to a previous conversation this year on Reddit with its co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, where he said that he supported CISPA because it was a "voluntary solution that finally allows cooperation among vulnerable hacking targets no one should want compromised — from your personal Facebook data to your family’s medical history — whether by criminals or government bureaucrats."

And he repeatedly called his new proposal a "two-year cooling off period" to give people impacted by or involved in regulation of the Internet time to come up with an appropriate approach.

Legal experts say the bill couldn't roll back net neutrality regulations that have already become law, and that it couldn't have the effect of preventing the enactment of any other future legislation.

"The bill can't stop Congress from passing an Internet-related bill," noted Gigi Sohn of the digital rights group Public Knowledge. "It is very broad; it could have unintended consequences on issues for which there is bipartisan support (privacy, spectrum auctions).

But, she added: "I welcome a debate on the proper role of government in Internet policy."