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The Internet voter’s guide to the 2014 midterm elections
If you care about the Internet more than anything else, here’s how to vote.
Internet freedom is not like abortion. It’s not like gun rights, or gay marriage, or the death penalty. Unlike most of the single issues you might try to use to categorize a candidate, it’s particularly hard to define what being good for the Internet even looks like.
That’s why, in our first-ever official endorsement, we narrowed our decisions down to a handful of important questions about Internet freedom. We sought out where candidates stood on net neutrality, user privacy, copyright law, and reforming the National Security Agency (NSA). In cases where it appears as though a candidate’s lobbying donations in one of these areas has compromised their position, or when they knowingly fought for policies that are expressly bad for the Internet—like pushing for copyright legislation that would enable censorship—we’ve opposed them.
When we say we looked at a candidate’s stance on Internet freedom, we mean that and nothing else. Though Democrats outnumber Republicans, and only two third-party candidates made the cut, political party had no bearing on our decisions. In certain cases, we have endorsed votes against incumbents who have proven themselves volatile to the Internet more than for their challengers, some of whom have yet to take a strong stance on these issues.
This is, plain and simple, a list of candidates running this year for U.S. Congress who we believe stand for a healthier Internet than their opponents. If you want a better Internet above all else, here’s how to vote for it.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D), 18th district
On Nov. 4, voters in California’s 18th can choose between Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who has served in Congress for over 20 years, and Richard B. Fox, a Libertarian-Republican and founder of children’s community clinics.
As the elected representative for Silicon Valley, home to many of the world’s largest technology giants, Eshoo has pursued legislation that would make net neutrality the law. In doing so, she’s shown that her interests lie in protecting the Internet and the digital rights of everyday citizens, not only the powerful corporate interests in her own backyard.
In addition to net neutrality, Eshoo has stood on the right side of Internet issues for years, helping lead the 2012 fight against the contentious Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). She’s a longstanding supporter of net neutrality, telling the Daily Dot in that same year that “it boggles the mind why anyone would be opposed to an open and free Internet.” She’s a frequent fixture on Reddit about such issues, even holding a contest for how to better rebrand net neutrality. (We appreciate the effort, but we aren’t sure that the contest winner, “Freedom Against Internet Restrictions,” is that big of an improvement.)
For these reasons, the Daily Dot recommends that California voters show their support for Eshoo come Nov. 4. — Dell Cameron
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D), 19th district
As a congresswoman from Silicon Valley, Zoe Lofgren’s role as a congressional leader in Internet law and technology is a natural one. Her constituents work and create in cyberspace, so for 20 years they’ve voted for one of the too-rare representatives who truly understands the digital terrain. In that time, Lofgren has repeatedly spearheaded efforts to maintain a free, open Internet.
Recently, Lofgren has attracted a growing spotlight thanks to her work defending net neutrality, protecting Americans’ digital civil liberties in the face of a swelling surveillance state, and for taking action against detrimental copyright laws.
In symphony with an army of cyber activists, she provided key opposition to SOPA. “Thousands and thousands of people called in,” she said of the popular activism against that anti-piracy legislation of mass destruction. “The bill was inevitable until it became unthinkable.”
In the ongoing wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leak of secret NSA documents, Lofgren pushed back against the agency’s massive surveillance powers with an amendment aimed at protecting Americans from the government’s insatiable hunger for personal data.
Last year, Lofgren introduced Aaron’s Law, a since-stalled but excellent bill to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), an oppressive and outdated law believed to have played a part in the 2013 suicide of Internet freedom activist and programmer Aaron Swartz. Lofgren is also a fierce advocate for smart patent and copyright reforms aimed at cutting down patent trolls.
A founding member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Lofgren is a crucial voice in an important position. When it comes to the future of cyberspace and security legislation, she’s not only important advocate for a free Internet, she’s also got her hand on the steering wheel.
Despite being one of the largest congressional recipients of Silicon Valley lobbying money, Lofgren has nevertheless wielded her influence admirably. As the key debates in Congress increasingly turn toward essential Internet freedom issues, having a woman like this in a leadership position gives the Web a better fighting chance. — Patrick Howell O’Neill
Rep. Doris Matsui (D), 6th district
This term, Rep. Doris Matsui co-sponsored the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, which would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to toughen its net neutrality regulations. She takes the issue so seriously, she commissioned a “field hearing” on net neutrality on Internet Slowdown Day, raising awareness of this critically important issue.
Matsui was also one of the main authors of a letter urging her fellow House Democrats to oppose SOPA in 2012. The letter “strongly recommend[ed]” that the Democratic Party platform officially state that it “stands for global Internet freedom, the free flow of information online, a free and open Internet, and protection from online censorship and privacy violations.”
She’s also not afraid to reach across party lines for the Internet. Matsui supported a House effortled by Rep. Justin Amash to prevent the NSA from spying on Americans through authorization provided in the USA PATRIOT Act. Although the effort fell just a few votes short of passage, Matsui is to be commended for standing up to surveillance overreach. A few days later, Matsui signed a letter addressed to President Obama from House Democrats stating their “lingering questions and concerns about the current 215 [bulk metadata] collection program.” — Eric Geller
Rep. Jared Polis (D), 2nd district
You likely already know Rep. Jared Polis. How many members of Congress are can say they’re a social media ace who has shown up time and time again on sites like Reddit, maintains an active Twitter account, has a big Facebook presence, and stars in a viral YouTube video or two?
Already a trailblazer—he’s is the first openly gay parent in congress—Polis is one of those rare politicians who knows his way around the Internet. He can galvanize activists and speak their language, as he did during the fights to kill SOPA and reform the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), two of the greatest legislative threats ever posed to Internet freedom.
When facing down clearly destructive and punitive bills like SOPA and its heirs, Polis is articulate and forceful, exactly the sort of representative Internet freedom activists rightfully demand.
“The Internet has brought this country and the world so much,” he said on the floor of Congress, while opposing SOPA in 2012. “Not only in terms of the millions of jobs and economic productivity of American citizens but far reaching changes in terms of the Arab Spring and the voice of freedom and desires across the world.”
Bills like SOPA, he explained, directly threaten the medium “that has brought humanity great prosperity and greater peace.”
But the Colorado representative’s best contribution may be his leadership on privacy reform. In addition to sponsoring NSA reforms, he’s attempted to fix the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, an ugly law that allows ridiculous warrantless email snooping from the government after six months.
For his powerful advocacy and deep understanding of Internet freedom, Polis deserves Coloradans’ consideration. — P.H.O.
Sen. Mark Udall (D)
Since taking office, Sen. Mark Udall has been an ally of both open Internet proponents and digital privacy advocates. He has been a consistent supporter of net neutrality, stating in a Senate floor speech in November 2011, “We’ve got to set an example for the rest of the world … the Internet must remain free and open.”
Udall’s record is equally strong on online privacy. In a case testing the government’s spying powers, he was one of only three senators to file a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, writing that “respect for Americans’ privacy is not a matter of convenience—it is an imperative of the Constitution.”
“Provisions in PIPA,” Udall noted, “appear to create unintended consequences that could stifle U.S. innovation, limit Americans’ free speech rights, increase the risk of cyberattacks, and undermine how the Internet functions.”
Udall also opposes the current cybersecurity bill that endangers American privacy, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act. And he has warned that “the federal government has exploited loopholes to collect Americans’ private information in the name of security.” — E.G.
Sen. Chris Coons (D)
Sen. Chris Coons may not be a household name outside of Delaware, but he is one of the Internet’s quiet fighters. He’s one of the few open supporters of net neutrality on the Senate Judiciary Committee—a powerful spot, considering that committee listens to a parade of naysayers who want Internet providers to pay more.
But Coons isn’t swayed. He said in September that “it is absolutely critical that we craft rules and policies that maintain [Internet access] favors neither the wealthy nor the politically well-connected and that retains equal access to online content.” He added specifics, saying that new policies “should include an anti-blocking rule and prevent discrimination so service providers cannot censor or slow down information on the Web.”
Coons has also moved to close loopholes that allow the U.S. government from intercepting Americans’ communications without a warrant. Coons is an author of the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (LEADS) Act, which would prevent government agencies from being able to legally access your emails without a warrant if they were stored in foreign servers.
Coons has not yet won a normal Senate election. Instead, he was vaulted into the spot in 2010 by winning a special election against Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell. Coons has proven he stands for an equal Internet and respects citizens’ privacy online, and should be thanked with a win in his first general election for the U.S. Senate. — Kevin Collier
Rep. Alan Grayson (D), 9th district
There is arguably no threat to the Internet as grave and underreported as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. A massive proposed trade agreement between a dozen nations that touch the Pacific ocean, the TPP would lock online copyright regulations as trade practices amongst all signing governments. As noted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, this is classic “policy laundering”—since lobbyists for overreaching copyright have failed to achieve their goals in D.C., they’re trying to do so around the world with trade pacts like the TPP.
If you want to stop the TPP, it’s vital to re-elect Alan Grayson.
While the current text of the TPP is secret—a standard practice for trade negotiations—Grayson is one of the few people who does have regular access. He got that after creating a petition against the TPP, which he says was responsible for pressuring the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office to let him see its text. He won’t say what’s in it—because it’s classified—but he says there’s “no national security interest in keeping this text secret.”
Grayson is also an outspoken critic of the NSA and has consistently voted for bills to reform the agency, including the USA Freedom Act, which is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate. — K.C.
Shenna Bellows (D), U.S. Senate
In her race against incumbent Sen. Susan Collins, former ACLU of Maine Executive Director Shenna Bellows has been a strong and consistent voice for Internet freedom. Her position on net neutrality is sterling: She opposed the FCC’s decision to explore paid prioritization (better known as “fast lanes”), which is a threat to the open Internet, and she called on Congress to “pass legislation restoring net neutrality so that all voices can have fair and equal access.”
Collins, by contrast, is flat-out bad for the Internet. She has explicitly opposed net neutrality and made the dubious claim that the NSA’s program of tracking American phone records “has defeated and thwarted dozens and dozens of terror plots both here and overseas.”
Conversely, Shenna Bellows, whom the progressive Change Campaign Committee calls “the Elizabeth Warren of civil liberties,” has said that she would vote to repeal the USA PATRIOT Act, a cornerstone of the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities. She says that the controversial program “undermines our democratic freedoms,” and she has called an NSA reform bill “a step in the right direction.” — E.G.
David Banach (R), 2nd district
If you’re looking for a den of powerful politicians who don’t give a damn about your privacy, look no further than the House Intelligence Committee. It’s not just a hub for some of Congress’s biggest defenders of the NSA, but it’s also the source of each attempt to pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), widely derided as Congress’s worst proposal to tackle cybersecurity, at least from a privacy perspective.
The current chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), is retiring in November to pursue a career in talk radio. But his ranking member counterpart, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), is still trucking along and seeking reelection. If you have any doubts about his commitment to your online privacy, recall that last time he pushed CISPA, he insisted that “we listened to the privacy groups” to write it. Oh? While the ACLU said that yes, they did consult with Ruppersberger, they opposed the bill, saying he completely ignored their advice.
Besides, could you trust anyone whose assurances that “the bill does not authorize the government to monitor your computer, your email, your Facebook, your Twitter,” as Ruppersberger has? Who talks like that? Does he even use the Internet?
David Banach, Ruppersberger’s challenger, doesn’t have a great chance of winning. He’s young, a veteran, snuck in unopposed in the Republican primary, and uses memes to middling effect. It’s not even clear he’s got an ideas about CISPA or cybersecurity in general; he’s never mentioned them on his website, Facebook page, or Twitter account. But Banach has two things going for him: One, he’s not Dutch Ruppersberger. Two, his general positions call to “immediately end the Patriot Act,” to “immediately terminate all spying on United States citizens,” and to “erase all data collected by the NSA through warrant less [sic] wire tapping [sic].”
Hey, he wouldn’t be the first elected official with bad grammar, and he’d be a heck of a lot of better than Rupp. We’ll take it. — K.C.
Sen. Ed Markey (D)
If net neutrality is one of the major battles of our time, Ed Markey is one of the Internet’s best champions.
As the junior senator from Massachusetts, whose citizens have played crucial roles in the birth and evolution of cyberspace, Markey’s brief tenure—he was put in office in a 2013 special election to replace John Kerry—has been marked by intelligent leadership and effective activism for an open and fair Internet.
As a senator in 2013 and a representative in 2009—he served Boston in the House of Representatives for almost 40 years—he introduced bills that would make net neutrality law.
“As the Internet evolves, we now face a choice,” he wrote in a 2010 Politico op-ed. “Can we preserve this wildly successful medium and the freedom it embodies, or do we permit network operators to alter how the Internet has historically functioned? Do we retain a level playing field for entrepreneurial entry? Or do we impose new fees and the artificial creation of slow lanes and fast lanes for content providers?”
More recently, as the world sat dumbfounded at the torrent of celebrity nude photos leaking online, Markey made the scandal a chance to talk about strengthening Internet privacy for children. Markey’s career has been characterized by a decades-long effort to protect the privacy of minors online, including introducing the Do Not Track Kids Act in 2011.
The great hope is that Markey’s strong advocacy for children’s online privacy sparks further debate about greater digital privacy protections for us all. As the free future of the Internet is repeatedly put to question in legislatures and board rooms around the globe, Markey is decidedly on the right side of history. For that, he deserves to continue to serve Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. — P.H.O.
Rep. Justin Amash (R), 3rd district
We’ve still not yet seen much policy change from Edward Snowden’s leaked cache of NSA documents. But in the leak’s immediate aftermath, Congress came this close to passing a total coup for Americans’ privacy.
In June 2013, Snowden’s very first revelation showed that the NSA gets daily call records of practically every American customer. That was a doozy of a discovery, especially since the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, had only weeks before testified under oath that no U.S. agency collected intelligence on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” (Clapper would later claim he “simply didn’t think of” the metadata program.)
A reactionary bill to outright restrict the NSA had little chance of passing, so Amash wasted no time in calling for a backdoor attack. On July 24, he attached an amendment to the House appropriations bill, a necessity for the Defense Department to get annual funding, that would refuse to pay the NSA for its phone records program.
It’s not entirely surprising it didn’t pass; that would have been unprecedented. But the final count was shockingly close: 205 to 217. If just a handful “no” votes had gone the other way, it would have been an incredible coup for privacy. Amash claimed that multiple representatives who voted against his amendment later told him they regretted their vote.
A year later, Amash, who draws his criticism of the NSA from the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantee of a right to privacy, is still one of House’s clearest voices for NSA reform.
Besides, regardless of how you feel about his politics, you have to respect the guy’s transparency: Who else explains every single one of his votes on his Facebook account? — K.C.
Rep. John Conyers (D), 13th district
Democratic co-sponsor of statemate Justin Amash’s (R-Mich.) House bill to rein in the NSA’s surveillance programs, Democrat John Conyers, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, knows his Internet policy issues. He was ahead of the curve on net neutrality, co-sponsoring a bill to preserve the open Internet back in May 2008.
Conyers also voted against CISPA, calling for “legislation encouraging information-sharing by the private sector” to be “carefully crafted and limited to actual threats.” Knowing it stood a good chance to pass the House (which it did, though it faltered in the Senate), Conyers attempted to amend the bill so that companies could not be immune from civil or criminal prosecution for “decisions made based on cyberthreat information.”
He’s taken a similar “make a bad bill better” approach to the USA PATRIOT Act, wanting to “make it more friendly toward the concerns of privacy that all Americans are entitled to.” — E.G.
Sen. Al Franken (D)
The liberal former Saturday Night Live funnyman has been one of the most serious voices in Washington when it comes to supporting Internet freedom. He’s advocated in favor of the Federal Trade Commission to block the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, an acquisition that online activists have charged would reduce competition in the America’s already uncompetitive broadband market. He’s led the charge for net neutrality, calling it the “First Amendment issue of our time.”
When it comes to government surveillance on the electronic communications of Americans, Franken’s strategy has been to search for a middle ground. After the Edward Snowden leaks last year, Franken was one of the agency’s most prominent public defenders on the left, telling a Minnesota CBS affiliate, “I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people.”
Yet, over the ensuing year, Franken has pushed for more transparency at the intelligence service. He joined with Sen. Dean Heller (R – Nev.) to add a provision to the USA Freedom Act, which stands a good chance of becoming the first NSA reform bill to actually make it to President Obama. Franken’s addition would force the NSA to disclose the number of people who are targeted by surveillance and give companies more freedom to reveal how much customer data they are required to hand over to government officials.
Franken’s Republican challenger, investment banker Mike McFadden, has criticized Sen. Franken for spending so much of his time pushing national Internet issues at the expense of local ones. In a statement to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, McFadden slammed Franken for ignoring the threat of homegrown Minnesota terrorists leaving the country to fight alongside radical Muslim extremists.
“As Senator, Al Franken has prioritized issues such as ‘net neutrality’ rather than concerns that extremists groups are recruiting from out of our own backyard,” McFadden said.
We fail to see how that’s a criticism. — Aaron Sankin
Rep. Keith Ellison (D), 5th district
Net neutrality is no longer a niche policy concern. Millions of citizens submitted comments to the FCC in favor of an open Internet, making it the most-commented issue in the Commission’s history.
So it’s natural that this is the year when a member of Congress recognized that a lack of net neutrality—meaning Internet providers can charge more to access certain sites at full speed—is an issue that particularly affects marginalized groups, such as people of color.
In an op-ed in the Huffington Post, Rep. Keith Ellison argued that a world without net neutrality is a world that can silence voices that need to be heard the most. For example, he implores readers to imagine what would happen if protesters in Ferguson, Mo., didn’t have access to their preferred method of uploading what they saw on the ground. “Communities of color—long underrepresented in public dialogue—would be among those hardest hit by such censorship,” he writes.
We’re supporting a number of candidates for their positive stance on net neutrality. But none of them argue for its vitality with such righteousness as Keith Ellison. — K.C.
Patricia Maher (D), 2nd district
Patricia Maher is not Peter King.
After 9/11, Maher did not use her public voice to stir up hatred and fear toward Muslim-Americans living in New York and across the country, unlike Rep. King. Nor has Maher suggested that minorities in America should be targeted for law enforcement surveillance because of their race or religion.
Last year, when it was revealed that the NSA was collecting the telephone records of every American citizen en masse, Maher did not go on television and call for the prosecution of the journalist who brought this information to light. She did not refer to the New York Times as Edward Snowden’s “accomplice.” In fact, she calls the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping of Americans “unconstitutional.”
When Occupy Wall Street protested the taxpayer funded bailout of financial institutions at fault for the largest U.S. economic collapse since the Great Depression, Ms. Maher did not refer to U.S. citizens exercising their constitutional right to protest as “un-American.”
Because Patricia Maher is not Peter King—and because she has campaigned on a pro-privacy platform—we must suggest that New Yorkers cast their vote for her come Nov. 4. — D.C.
Robert Fry (D), 5th district
Net neutrality is one of those issues where it’s genuinely difficult to imagine a convincing counter-argument. Unless such a plan would actively make you a fortune, why would anyone want to give Internet service providers, which already have some of the worst customer satisfaction ratings in the U.S., the power to charge more to access the full Internet at full speed?
You sure won’t get a good answer from Rep. Bob Latta, who has the dubious distinction of introducing a bill to prevent the FCC from enforcing net neutrality. And he has the gall to call it an attempt “to ensure the Internet remains open and free.” By his argument, “free” refers to letting ISPs squeeze the public even further.
Why would Latta be swayed by ISPs’ bad logic on this? Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that, according to figures provided by the congressional donation watchdog site the Sunlight Foundation, Latta has received around $50,000 from AT&T and Verizon alone.
Democratic challenger Robert Fry doesn’t stand a great chance to win Latta’s seat, held since 2008. But Fry is free of Latta’s obligation to big ISPs, even going so far as to support Internet Slowdown Day, the net neutrality protest responsible for delivering hundreds of thousands of pro-net neutrality comments to the FCC.
The odds of a Fry election may be slim, but the fewer Bob Lattas we have in Congress, the better chance we have of keeping a fair Internet. — K.C.
Aelea Christofferson (D), 2nd district
The standing congressman for Oregon’s 2nd district is one of the open Internet’s biggest enemies on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Greg Walden has received well over $100,000 in donations from the telecom industry in the past two years—making him one of the largest recipients of such cash in Congress. While Walden has insisted these donations haven’t affected his positions on this issues, he has a history of speaking out speaking out against net neutrality.
“[Net neutrality] regulations are a solution in search of a problem,” Walden said in a joint statement with Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) earlier this year, when the FCC was considering instituting net neutrality rules that had been recently struck down by a federal judge. “With the many issues on its plate, including implementation of the spectrum incentive auctions, it would be wise for the Commission to focus on fostering economic growth, job creation, and competition.”
When it comes to the NSA’s widespread surveillance, Walden has come down on the other side of privacy. When a bipartisan coalition attempted to tack on an amendment to an Department of Defense appropriations bill last year that would have placed significant restrictions on the intelligence agency’s cellphone tracking program, Walden joined the opposition to squeeze out a successful no vote.
Walden’s Democratic opponent, Aelea Christofferson, has long supported strong net neutrality regulations. And while Christofferson has spoken little about NSA surveillance and online privacy issues, it’s a good bet that she would vote better than Walden. — K.C.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D)
When Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley was described by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent in 2010 as “one of a younger crop of reform-minded Democrats,” Sargent was referring to the politician’s push for filibuster reform in the Senate. But Merkley’s progressive stance on a whole raft of issues since he was selected by the Democrat establishment as a “safe” choice back in 2008 makes this description particularly apt.
Though Merkley may have, like every other member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, voted to place sanctions on any country that harbors whistleblower Edward Snowden, that doesn’t mean he’s a cheerleader for the NSA. The Oregonian has described bulk data collection as “an outrageous breach of Americans’ privacy,” questioning whether “the FBI or the NSA [can] really claim that they need the data scooped up on tens of millions of Americans?”
In one particularly heated scene in 2013, he brandished his Verizon phone at then-NSA chief Keith Alexander and demanded to know “what authorized investigation gave you the grounds” to spy on his phone calls.
Even prior to Snowden’s revelations, Merkley has displayed suspicion of mass collection of Americans’ data, voting against a cybersecurity bill in 2012 because it “provides private companies with broad new authority to collect and monitor Americans’ communications, while failing to require industry to make changes which would better protect our nation’s infrastructure.”
Currently running for his second term in office, Merkley has also been outspoken in support of net neutrality. In an open letter to the FCC chairman in Feb. 2014, Merkley—along with four other senators—called upon the regulatory body to enact “enforceable rules to prevent the blocking and discrimination of Internet traffic.” The senator has also tweeted on the subject:
Though Republican challenger Monica Wehby’s medical credentials had previously put in her good stead against the pro-Obamacare incumbent, this is unlikely to result in an electoral upset: Oregon is a modestly strong blue State, and HuffPost polling suggests Merkley’s re-election is almost certain. — Rob Price
Dan Cramer (D), 7th district
Big ISPs have few more reliable advocates in Washington than Rep. Marsha Blackburn. When it comes to issues like net neutrality and public-run broadband service, Blackburn has consistently done whatever she could to argue on the side big telecom and against Internet freedom activists.
In 2011, years before the concept of net neutrality became a frontpage issue, she introduced the “Internet Freedom Act,” a perversely-named bill, considering it would have prevented the FCC from mandating ISPs to treat all data the same along the “last mile” to consumers—the very opposite of net neutrality. And earlier this year, she attached an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have blocked municipalities around the country from building their own public broadband networks that sold Internet access directly to consumers.
Just as Blackburn has been a big supporter of the telecom industry, the telecom industry has been a big supporter of Blackburn. Over the course of her political career, many of her largest donors have been the most prominent names in providing Internet service to Americans—AT&T, Verizon, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and Comcast.
Blackburn’s Democratic challenger is former Army helicopter pilot Dan Cramer. Cramer strongly supports both the concept of net neutrality and the proposals to reclassify ISPs as Title II common carriers, which would require them to treat all online traffic the same.
“Without net neutrality,” Cramer told the Daily Dot, “ISPs say they’re going to offer fast lanes with lighting speeds, but they’re not building new infrastructure. They’re not adding bandwidth, not laying extra cables. What they’re doing is taking the existing capacity, carving a special lane out, charing certain people extra to use it, and everyone else gets left in the slow lane.”
Cramer said he wasn’t familiar enough with the exact details of the USA Freedom Act, which is aimed at curtailing some of the NSA’s abuses of public privacy enabled by the PATRIOT Act, to say how he would vote on it, but he was willing to endorse it’s general principle of putting accountability checks on the government’s ability monitor the electronic communications of American citizens.
“The government has a public safety motive in making sure that it can track information when it needs to,” he said, “but I don’t believe that collecting all the data and then sorting out later if we needed any of it is the right way to go.” — A.S.
Rebecca Paddock, Senate (L)
As the libertarian candidate running to replace John Cornyn, Rebecca Paddock has made her opposition to the NSA’s surveillance programs very clear. “If elected,” she says on her website, “I will sponsor legislation streamlining our intelligence functions, thereby preventing costly overlap, and ensuring effective and accountable oversight is in place.”
Contrast this position with the attitude of NSA surveillance defender Senator Cornyn, who said on NPR that bulk collection of metadata was not “subject to the Fourth Amendment.”
Senator Cornyn is also opposed to net neutrality, which he said “would impose more government regulation on the internet.” — E.G.
Ryan Shields (L), 21st district
There are plenty of candidates who are particularly bad on a single issue for the Internet: Some are indebted to telecom companies and fight net neutrality; some are eager cheerleaders for the NSA. But there’s nobody in Congress like Lamar Smith, a political Frankenstein’s monster sewn together from bad Internet policies and lobbyist money.
Smith, a longtime recipient of funds from the film and TV industries, is best known for introducing the infamous SOPA anti-piracy bill from 2011 that inspired a mass online uprising. To this day, “SOPA” remains shorthand for a bill that’s so bad that the Internet will rebel.
Smith is also the sponsor of the 2012 FISA Amendments Act, which lets the NSA keep the legal authority to tap American tech companies for foreign customers’ communications through its PRISM program. (He also voted for the previous versions of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008.) Smith is also the author of the failed Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act, which would, under the guise of helping law enforcement track child predators, force websites to log all users’ activity.
There was an online movement to keep Smith out of office in 2012, even putting up “Don’t Mess With the Internet” billboards in his district; it failed miserably. Part of the problem is the district itself. Gerrymandering is a mess the whole country over, but Austin, Texas, is particularly bad. A single city of under 900,000 people split into six different districts, it’s in one of those oddly shaped spots, reaching all the way to San Antonio, where Smith has found his niche.
This year, like in many of Smith’s previous elections (he’s been in office since 1986, three years before the invention of the Web), Smith faces very little competition. There is no registered Democrat running in Texas’s 21st, only a Green Party candidate without a website and a Libertarian who has revealed little about his positions on net neutrality, copyright, or online privacy.
But even if Libertarian Ryan Shields is wet behind the ears, an earnest candidate who believes in minimizing government intervention, who hasn’t yet sold out to lobbyists, would be infinitely better for the Internet than Lamar Smith. — K.C.
Illustrations by J. Longo