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GOP Congressman's attempt to look cool on Reddit backfires

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa held a Reddit AMA this morning about his suggested legislation banning the creation of new regulations over the internet.

Congressman Darrell Issa is a Republican from California who orchestrated a very interesting publicity stunt this morning. By creating a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread seeking Reddit users' comments and questions regarding his new proposed bill to impose a two-year ban on creating new federal regulations over the internet, Issa attempted to create an image of democracy that would be commendable, had it been carried out correctly. Going directly to Reddit to discuss a law attempting to protect the interests of Reddit seems, ostensibly, like an olive branch from the federal government to the people. In reality, it became a fiasco. The AMA thread was meant to be a forum, a sign that the Republican Party can speak the language of the young voters whose favor it very obviously lost in the election. Instead, it became a soap box on which Issa stood as a crowd of hecklers threw tomatoes at him.

The legislation at hand is the Internet American Moratorium Act, so conveniently abbreviated as IAMA, which attempts to "create a two-year moratorium on any new laws, rules or regulations governing the internet." Suggesting such a ban to users of one of the most vocal participants in last year’s online protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) likely seemed like a smart move to Issa and his associates. The GOP likely couldn’t have found a better candidate to propose the bill, as Issa gained some surprising favor last year as a very public opponent to SOPA and PIPA.

However, Reddit users instead attacked the Congressman’s fluctuating positions on the subject, as well as the bill’s vague language, potential consequences, and convenient timing.

In the AMA, Congressman Issa was taken to task for his position as a co-sponsor of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), as well as his repeated support for the even more controversial PATRIOT Act. To the former, he responded by linking to his response to another AMA held six months ago. To the latter, he apparently had no comment.

Nonetheless, the AMA was centered around the new proposed legislation. In this regard, many users had questions about the bill’s exception for national security, which states:

SEC. 4. NATIONAL SECURITY EXEMPTION.

  1. (a) PRESIDENTIAL NOTIFICATION. - Upon notification to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Intelligence Committees and Homeland Security Committees by the President of the United States, or his designee, of an existential threat to the Internet, the President may, for the purposes of addressing this threat, allow agencies to promulgate rules that have otherwise been suspended by this Act.
  2. (b) LIMITATION. - This exemption in no way allows the President to compel an agency or department to promulgate any rules or regulations that have not already otherwise been implemented into law. 

Although this exemption is important and expected, some Reddit users expressed skepticism with the use of the term "existential threat to the Internet." As user ProEJockey put it, the vague term “existential threat” could become justification for shutting down websites that only pose a financial threat to certain concerned corporations:

There is an exemption for national security that is somewhat vague. It does not require any agency to follow due process. But it also limits the power of the president to enforce only laws that are already on the books.

Where is the oversight in this? Who assures that sites that are closed are actually being done so to deal with a threat to national security? I agree with virtualchoirboy that this will be the loophole that Hollywood exploits.

Even more Reddit users seemed concerned about the consequences of banning all regulations from the government because some regulations are needed to protect citizens from over-reaching corporations controlling the internet services they use. This comment, from Reddit user danny_ray is one of many that touched on this topic.

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. 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.

The oversight in regards to these concerns only seemed more apt when considering that Congressman Issa is a member of a Republican party whose members have acknowledged the impact its disparity with young voters had on its losses in the election earlier this month. One Reddit user questioned whether any "recent events" correlate with Congressman Issa’s shift in priorities when it comes to governing the internet.

...why the sudden reversal? You were a co-sponsor of CISPA, but now you don't want any internet regulation. Did anything happen, say maybe about three weeks ago to the day, that caused you to change your mind?

Perhaps most poignantly, a Reddit user who claimed to be an “internet lawyer” called out Congressman Issa for what the legislation and AMA really are: a half-hearted attempt at telling young voters that he relates to their concerns. Whether or not that was his intention, it’s what it will be remembered as.

Internet lawyer here. This bill, as currently drafted, is a bogus, apparently fraudulent attempt to impose a wholesale ban on all federal regulations regardless of their impact on the internet. Reddit, we are being pandered to by a Republican Party whose future existence is threatened by its tanking approval ratings among the "young." Listen up:

First, this bill is not targeted to regulations burdening the free internet; rather, its breathtakingly broad application protects any and all "individuals or corporations engaged in activities on the Internet," from any and all new requirements. The covered entities, of course, include basically every individual period (since we all use the internet), and virtually every business that has a website or email address. So pretty much 99% of all human activity in this country is covered.

Second, it is not even limited to banning regulations of everyone's ONLINE activity; it would also ban regulations of their offline activity. So that means no more environmental, FDA, transportation, or airline safety regs, because everyone regulated is "engaged in activities on the internet."

This is not a serious piece of proposed legislation. It is yet another stunt by the childish House GOP so they can tell young internet lovers that the Dems who rejected the bill hate the free internet. What an insult.

TL:DR: the proposed bill is a joke. It says that everyone and every business in America shall not be affected by any regulation whatsoever. It has nothing to do with making the internet more free.

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