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Sending the Cat Signal

Last month, when Netroots Nation came to town, I wrote a piece called "Game Change?" that asked whether the remarkable Internet uprising that squashed the SOPA and PIPA bills - bills that were designed to crack down on Internet piracy, but which critics called a hamhanded assault on the open web - could be replicated.

At the heart of that question is another: was the anti-SOPA coalition of lefty netroots types, libertarians, and big Internet companies so unique that we're unlikely to see it again, or were the tools it developed so powerful that they are destined to spread to, and transform, fights over abortion or the environment or campaign finance reform?

We still don't know the answer to that question. But one thing is clear. Internet freedom, itself, is an important issue that's unlikely to go away. And there, it seems, the coalition that formed around the anti-SOPA fight has every chance to repeat itself.

Enter the newly launched Internet Defense League.

Powered by Fight for the Future, a grassroots group that played a central role in the anti-SOPA fight, the Internet Defense League aims to formalize the approach that worked so well in that conflict: mobilizing big web platforms to place "call your Congressman"-type widgets on their web sites when a threat emerges.

The league is putting out the word by blasting a Batman-like cat signal all over the web. Sites that sign on - reddit and Mozilla are among the early members - will get a bit of code allowing them to alert their users to Washington skullduggery.

So, Congress beware? Maybe. But maybe not. We've already seen that not every Internet bill gets the web in a lather.

Just look at the cybersecurity bill coming to a head in Congress now. Before some recent changes, civil liberties advocates were deeply concerned about the kind of information it could force web companies to share, with the government, about their users. But there was nothing approaching the anti-SOPA uprising against the bill.

Perhaps the big Internet companies, seeing a greater threat to their customers' privacy than to their bottom lines, didn't feel compelled to stir up public opposition. You can bet that Washington is taking careful notes on what will provoke the beast - and what won't.


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