The 2012 political tug of war for the Internet

Several civil liberties groups want to add a cyberplank to this year’s political debate: Freedom of the Internet. They call the potential for a regulated Internet terrifying -- among the biggest issues the country faces.

On Tuesday the GOP took up the cause at the Republican National Convention, adding support for Internet freedom to the party's official platform. David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, an activist group responsible for the new Vote for the Net movement, called it "a big victory for the Internet," and said democrats may have to rush to keep up.

"Democrats should act quickly if they want to keep up, and if they don't want to lose their position as the party of the 'net," he said.

"Donations from Silicon Valley and the tech industry have been increasingly skewing toward the Republicans, and this is a huge opportunity for the Democrats to make a play for those dollars. It's clear today that censoring the Internet or monitoring Internet users is wildly unpopular."

'This is a big victory for the internet.'

— David Segal, executive director of the new Vote for the Net movement

The official 2012 Republican Platform, approved at the party’s National Convention in Tampa Aug. 28, supports “Protecting Internet freedom” by remove existing regulations, resisting efforts to change current governance, and ensuring that personal data receives full constitutional protection.

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“The Internet has unleashed innovation, enabled growth and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. Its independence is its power,” the platform reads.

Segal applauded the language, which he said Americans have been widely in support of.

“During the fight against SOPA we witnessed the biggest protests in the history of the Web, and among the largest protests of anything, ever,” Segal told

He referred to the January protests by nearly 20 million people against a controversial pair of bills backed by the motion picture and recording industries meant to eliminate theft online once and for all.

One site that was key in stirring up the ire of voters was, which mobilized a rabid fan base to come out against SOPA and other heavy-handed regulations. This month, founder Alexis Ohanian has taken to riding in a bus around the country to make Internet freedom a hot topic.

“I want to hear this issue come up in the debates and see them out-do one another with promises for defending Internet freedom,” Ohanian told “I can imagine Romney coming down harder against government screwing it up and Obama coming down harder against business screwing it up.”

In a first-ever question and answer session on Ohanian's site Wednesday, President Barack Obama implied that his party would follow the Republican lead.

"Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too," he wrote. "We will fight hard to make sure that the Internet remains the open forum for everybody -- from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business."

"And although there will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won't stray from that principle -- and it will be reflected in the platform."

Before this week's sudden popularity of the cause, the issue of Internet freedom had remained largely untouched upon.

Both President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney had spoken at length about controversial Internet legislation such as SOPA in the past, but neither was willing to comment on the Demand Progress platform.

Col. Cedric Leighton, a former National Security Administration official, said there’s another distinction between the candidates and their online positions: China. Romney has said an open Internet is better for the Chinese people and provides a framework for more freedom in general, but Obama “has been criticized for not forcefully advocating for free and open Internet access in China.”

Tiffany Madison, who has founded several Internet freedom advocacy groups, said Obama might be quietly developing a follow-up to SOPA that could be more palatable to voters. She said MPAA chief Chris Dodd told Hollywood Reporter last April that Obama is working with legislators on developing a new bill that will appease his Hollywood constituents.

But that could turn into a major blunder, she said.

“The future of the Internet is at stake,” Madison told “The Net is the largest, most organic information sharing network in the history of the world … it’s the responsibility of the people to remain vigilant against damaging regulation.”

Michael Embrich, a spokesperson for TestPAC, believes American voters will express their views on Internet freedom at the polls, and through donations.

"The government owes the American people the assurance that the Internet will be a place of freedom, not repression,” he said. “That’s their job.”

The presidential candidates should certainly focus on important topics like taxes and immigration. But the candidate that becomes the strongest advocate for the Web may earn some extra credibility, it seems -- especially with the Facebook crowd.