Reddit’s TestPAC sparks presidential debate about Internet rights

Activists at r/TestPAC have launched a petition to get one of three questions about Internet rights in the first presidential debate in Denver, Colo. 


Kevin Collier


Published Sep 28, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 10:20 am CDT

Would you like to see Barack Obama and Mitt Romney talk about Internet freedom when they debate in Denver, Colo., this Wednesday?

Activists at Reddit’s r/TestPAC hope you do. They’ve started a petition to make Internet freedom, or the infamous Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—a bill considered a major threat to such freedom before it was defeated in January—part of the discussion.

Best known for raising money to fight the reelection of Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the House representative who introduced SOPA into Congress, TestPAC’s new initiative is aimed at raising signatures, not money. It hopes to get at least one of three questions asked at the debate:

  • How to best balance a non-censored Internet with one that protects copyright.
  • How to establish national cybersecurity while still protecting individuals’ privacy rights online.
  • Whether Net neutrality is best achieved with government Intervention or without it.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have an edge with activists, and both parties have treated the first issue similarly. Although SOPA was introduced by a Republican, its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), was the work of Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Both bills threatened to make it so easy for the government to shut down websites that might link to pirated, copyrighted content, many feared it would “break the Internet.”

The popular and successful movement against SOPA movement largely sparked the current wave of Internet activism. It’s unclear what the next battle between copyright and censorship will look like, but the president of the Motion Picture Association of America has said he plans to start it in early 2013.

The second question, how to address cybersecurity, is a bit more complex. Democrats largely favored the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (CSA), which would ask businesses to adopt stricter cybersecurity standards. It was defeated in the Senate by Republicans who thought it put too much financial strain on businesses. The CSA will likely live on anyway, as President Obama’s staff says he plans to enact an executive order based on the bill. Republicans have countered with the Cyber Intelligence Security Protection Act (CISPA), which passed the House in April but still awaits a Senate vote. CISPA would allows companies under cyberattack to give government agencies access to their networks, something privacy advocates fear could be a gross intrusion, since unrelated information those agencies gather can be used to prosecute citizens.

Finally, whether net neutrality requires government intervention or not is probably the area with most blatant contention between the two parties. Though both parties pledged to defend Internet freedom in their official 2012 platforms, and both addressed the topic in vague terms, they clearly differ on net neutrality. Democrats didn’t directly address the issue in their platform, but it’s safe to assume they’re at least somewhat complicit with the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 ruling of Web standards. The GOP platform, however, clearly follows the ideal of minimizing the government’s intervention of the Internet, though critics say that opens to door for too much corporate control.

Those at r/TestPAC aren’t the only redditors trying to raise awareness of the Internet as basic political talking point this election. This month a group of them, including cofounder Alexis Ohanian and general manager Erik Martin, are driving a bus labeled “INTERNET 2012” from Denver, the site of the first presidential debate, to Danville, Ky., the site of the first vice presidential talks.

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*First Published: Sep 28, 2012, 4:30 pm CDT