IDL Launch Party

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    Sascha D. Meinrath discusses the Internet Defense League

    19 July 2012 | Written by Maxxum

    When I saw that the New America Foundation was hosting a launch party for the Internet Defense League (IDL) in DC, I took an interest not just because it's a subject that is within our scope of coverage (and literally a walk down the street), but because the IDL reminds me of similar collaborative efforts that power the open source community, which also provides free resources that allow sites like this one to function.

    Sascha D. Meinrath, the Director for the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, spoke with me about the IDL:

    Sascha D. Meinrath
    click to enlarge

    What do you hope to achieve with IDL?

    IDL is an effort to proactively organize after what we have seen with SOPA, PIPA and sort of the wide ranging array of different organizations and individuals who came together; we thought knowing as we do that there's going to be other efforts to encircle our Internet, to infringe upon our rights, to censor and manipulate our information - that it would make sense for us to begin the process of getting to know one another.

    A lot of Internet freedom cuts across traditional and political lines, so you have a lot of strange bedfellows all gathering together saying we care about these issues; issues of privacy, and surveillance and security - and IDL was really an effort to say, okay we're not the fringes. We're actually quite a substantial constituency, and it's about time that we saw one another and the world saw us for what we are.

    Normally for something like this, you would have a lobby group that would try to get the message to DC, but you didn't do that - you took [the responsibility] upon yourselves.

    Correct, yeah this is a pretty much all volunteer effort. It's driven by peoples' passion and interest to protect our online rights, and it's an unusual array of different organizations, individuals, who care about these issues. Who care about freedom of speech online, who care about freedom of assembly online, who care about anonymity online - and, are now beginning to organize quite actively.

    Sascha D. Meinrath with California Congressman (R) Darrell Issa
    click to enlarge

    Are you focused primarily on issues that occur within the United States, or are you going to see something more international where should something happen, say in Russia, that you would try to act on someone's behalf?

    The scope is definitely transnational ... the Internet is a global phenomenon, and so we need to meet threats to the Internet, as a global community. And, so our focus is really catalyze now where we are today in DC, and New York, and San Francisco and around the globe, and expand tomorrow as more and more people become active and understand the import of this critical communications medium in their everyday lives.

    Do you have a means of communication for the international issues? You're in DC, so you can take your issues directly to the Capitol. What are you going to be doing internationally - if there's a website in Moscow that has an issue, how are you going to assist them going to the Kremlin?

    On the one hand you have the launch of a global effort to protect online freedom, on the other hand you also have a heterogeneity of different networks that are made-up of all of these different groups and individuals that are part of this effort, and so there's no one mechanism. It's not a top-down effort where it's like everybody says we must focus on this area over there. It's much more of a ground-up effort ... it's not that we have to identify a problem in Moscow, it's that people in Moscow are going to let us know when there's a problem in their backyards. The organizing mechanism, the information flow is completely different than traditional organizing models, it's what the Internet makes possible.

    How would you respond to governments that look at your organization and say, "We don't understand what Caturday is".

    (laughs) Well, anyone that fully understands what Caturday is would be lying. The focus of many of the individuals here is gonna be quite different.

    What brings us together isn't a singular message, it's not a singular point of view, or perspective. What brings us together is a general understanding that we are all inter-connected in our understanding that if my rights are infringed upon, or your rights are infringed upon online, that we all suffer for it. You can think of it as sort of the flip side of Metcalfe's Law, the network effects of having everyone have freedom online means that we all accrue benefits. So, when individuals that are part of that network are kept off of this resource, or prevented from fully utilizing or realizing these resources, it harms all of us.

    The Cat-Signal
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    How many website organizational members do you have right now?

    Oh my gosh, it's hard to say. I haven't looked since the Internet Freedom Declaration came out. That had somewhere around 100,000 people already signed-up; 1500 organizations, and this sort of fits hand and glove with that. I don't know, I think it would be very difficult to tell exactly how many of them have crossed over already.

    What happens when things get really big? "Site A" number 200,000 on the list, they might be a very small site. They come to you and say they have a problem; how are you going to delegate? This site is small but their needs are just as important as Wikipedia's needs.

    Yes, and I actually think that it's these small sites that [have] the greatest threat. The ones that have the least protection are the ones that are going to be the canary in the coal mine. And, I think that's a generally held understanding of the way in which our rights are infringed aren't usually through the megasites, they're through these fringe groups, fringe organizations, fringe elements of society, that we first see that.

    Who ultimately decides when a threat is worth dealing with?

    Individual members of the Internet Defense League decide for themselves. Each individual group and website ... decides for itself whether to send up a flare and say this is really important, pay attention.

    One website can say this is a threat, but another can say we disagree... how does the IDL deal with that discussion?

    Listserves, and various sundry - we've been doing things on IRC. And, our focus is just in ensuring there's the ability for people to communicate across these traditional boundaries.

    click to enlarge

    Photos by Maxxum