hands off our internet

SOPA and PIPA Hang Over Personal Democracy Forum

At least some members of Congress are making an effort to get the Internet sector's vote.
darrell issa pdf12 SOPA and PIPA Hang Over Personal Democracy Forum

Rep. Issa discussing CISPA, which he supports, at the Personal Democracy Forum.

One of Andrew Rasiej’s favorite jokes is that legislators don’t know the difference between a server and a waiter. Mr. Rasiej, chairman of the NY Tech Meetup and founder of Personal Democracy Forum, a summit on tech and politics, moderated on stage at NYU’s Skirball Center. Mr. Rasiej faced off with netizens Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA). “Why is it that so many members of Congress don’t seem to understand the Internet?” he asked.

“We don’t use our children enough as advisors,” Sen. Wyden said, in a joke that fell flat. “There is a generational divide on this issue.”

Rep. Issa had a more thoughtful answer. “The path to Congress or elected office usually doesn’t lead through tech activities,” he said. “More than half of Senators are lawyers, slightly less than half the House are lawyers. There are more doctors than people who have ever started their own business.”

He agreed there is a generational divide, with Congresspeople relying on IT staff to understand the Internet for them. “A lot of times, people have just simply gotten into the habit of not wanting to learn how things work because they’re doing
other things… then they make these terrible jokes that show they really don’t know how it works.”

The uprising around SOPA and PIPA seems destined to hover around industry conferences indefinitely. Cheezburger Network chief Ben Huh said the now-legendary online protest that stopped the twin anti-piracy bills, SOPA and PIPA, would be the dominant topic at the Internet comedy gathering ROFLCon.

The pair positioned themselves as Internet-friendly, with Sen. Wyden even name-dropping TweetDeck. Rep. Issa thanked the audience and 15 million digital protestors “for what you did on January 18” to stop the bills.

Sen. Wyden proposed a “digital bill of rights,” to repair the relationship between Congrees and the American web industry.  “It sounds like you’re starting what amounts to a digital Constitutional convention,” he told Mr. Rasiej. The bill of rights would enumerate broad rights such as “freedom,” “open Internet” and the right of digital citizens to “share.”

“The more I learn about the ‘net, frankly, the less I know,” he admitted.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post described Mr. Rasiej as a lobbyist. While he is a politically active techie, coordinating the Personal Democracy Forum as well as the large anti-SOPA protest in New York, he has never been employed as a lobbyist. Betabeat regrets the error.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com