It turns out that the hackivist group Anonymous can only do so much when it comes to online activism. The group called for an Internet blackout in protest of a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.
A similar protest back in January of 2012 against the Stop Online Piracy Act managed to attract major media attention. Major websites such as Wikipedia, Google, and Craigslist participated in the protest, informing their visitors of the bill and giving them links to contact their senators and representatives. SOPA was withdrawn amid this outcry. However a similar uprising of the Internet has not followed regarding the CISPA bill.
CISPA would allow for sharing of information between private corporations and the government in the event of a cyber attack. Critics such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that it would allow companies to hand over user's private data to the government thanks to a clause in the bill. Anonymous called it, "the ugly fusion of SOPA and PIPA into a super zombie bill determined to kill your online privacy."
Despite the outcry among privacy experts and the calls for an Internet blackout, it has not materialized onto any of the high profile websites that made the first protest against SOPA so effective. Of the websites that Anonymous claims have gone silent in protest, none of them are major ones that legislators or the general public are likely to encounter in their day-to-day use of the Internet. According to my count nearly 10% of the websites listed are just personal blogs from the website Tumblr.
One reason that major technology companies have not jumped into full opposition of the bill is that it does not threaten their bottom line. SOPA was reviled by the technology industry because it threatened to make website liable for having things as simple as a link to a pirated movie being posted on it. CISPA is being pitched as a cybersecurity bill rather than an anti-piracy measure, and many major companies think it will not affect them in the same way SOPA would have. In fact, there has even been a group of technology companies that support CISPA. This includes TechNet, a political lobbying organization that represents technology issues on the Hill. Members include Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Google, and others. Google has taken no stance on the bill.
Beyond the lack of concern from the technology corporations, there is issue of the bill's chances of passing overall. Although CISPA has made it through the House of Representatives, it faces a chillier reception in the Senate. The bill has never had enough support in the Senate to pass cloture and make it to the floor for a vote. And with one of the co-sponsors, former Senator Joe Lieberman, out of the Senate and no public Senate version of CISPA having been introduced, it may die like it did last year. In one final blow against CISPA passage, President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk, as he did last year.
While some may think the attempt at an Internet blackout noble, the limited impact of it compared to the online protests against SOPA show how utterly dependent the majority of the Internet is on major technology corporations in getting its voice heard in the halls of Congress. Perhaps this episode will make Internet activists consider ways to organize that are not so dependent upon the whims of the corporate boardroom.