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Near the end of the week last week, the lastest “the US government is spying on US citizens” scandal broke. For 24 hours I tried to ignore it but once big tech companies, specifically Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, started coming out with their denials about being involved in PRISM, I got sucked into all the chatter. I was able to ignore it yesterday because I took a digital sabbath but ended up reading a bunch of stuff about it this morning.
While I’m a strong believer in civil liberties and am opposed to the Patriot Act, I long ago gave up the notion that we have any real data privacy. I’ve regularly fought against attempts at outrageous new laws like SOPA/PIPA but I’m not naive and realize that I’m vastly outgunned by the people who want this kind of stuff. Whenever I get asked if I’ll write huge checks to play big money politics against this stuff, I say no. And recently, I’ve started quoting Elon Musk’s great line at the All Things Digital Conference, “If we give in to that, we’ll get the political system we deserve.”
I read around 50 articles on things this morning. I’m no more clear on what is actually going on as the amount of vagueness, statements covered with legal gunk, illogical statements, and misdirection is extraordinary, even for an issue like this one.
Following are some of the more interesting things I read today.
- We are shocked, shocked…
- Government Says Secret Court Opinion on Law Underlying PRISM Program Needs to Stay Secret
- It’s our own fault… Deal with it.
- Tech Companies Concede to Surveillance Program
- Is the NSA outsourcing its domestic spying to Israel?
- Nothing To Hide
- No One Is Talking About The Insane Law That Lets Authorities Read Any Email Over 180 Days Old
- Room 641A
- What If China Hacks the NSA’s Massive Data Trove?
And I always thought PRISM was about teleportation.
And finally, the Wikipedia article, like all Wikipedia articles, is the definitive source of all PRISM information at this point, at least to the extent that anything around PRISM is accurate.
I’ve regularly blog about patent trolls harassing startups and impeding innovation, the experiences of immigrant founders, and the battle for a free internet. While I’m fortunate to have this blog, and other writing opportunities as a platform to give voice to these stories, I also realize that to really have a meaningful impact, we need the startup community to be involved in government.
That’s where Engine Advocacy comes in. A few months ago, I joined the Advisory Board of Engine to lend my support to an organization that is doing amazing work for the startup ecosystem. We’re trying to create a startup community that can mobilize to make the government listen and understand the issues that have a unique impact on our community.
Here’s an example of great work that Engine has done: During the fight against SOPA/PIPA last year it seemed to a lot of outsiders that the internet community’s reaction happened overnight. What many people don’t know is that there were hundreds of organizations and businesses working together for months to make that one-day blackout so impactful. Engine connected 15,000 calls from individuals to their Senators that day. The sheer volume of calls shut down the Senate switchboard, twice.
Engine is always monitoring the issues, doing great research, keeping members informed so that we can identify any threats early, and respond as a community. There are many ways that startups can get involved, perhaps the simplest being just keeping up-to-speed on tech policy.
At the end of this month, Engine is bringing startups to Washington, D.C. to talk to lawmakers about issues that are really important to the startup community — issues like immigration, software patent reform, and keeping the internet free and open. You can get involved by becoming an Engine member today. Go to D.C. with them. Send them your stories.
Ultimately, we’re not just Silicon Valley, or Boulder., or any other geographically-defined tech scene. We’re a powerful community that is creating jobs and improving the economy — basically, doing all of those things that Senators and Members of Congress talk about making happen. It’s time they listened to us. Let’s make the startup community a stronger voice in Washington.
I believe that Senator Mark Udall is doing a superb job for Colorado. I’d like to encourage you to support Mark’s re-election campaign by joining me for an event at BMOCA in Boulder on June 17th. I’m co-hosting the event with a bunch of folks who have been very involved in the Boulder startup community, including Dennis Arfmann, Libby Cook, Howard Diamond, Brad Feld, Jim Franklin, Marc Graboyes, Don Hazell, David Huberman, Roger Koenig, Nancy Pierce, Jason Mendelson, Bill Mooz, Michael Platt, Beau and Lucy Stark, Phil Weiser, and Joe Zell. Please come join us for a fun evening of discussion, networking, and a chance to talk to Mark about what’s on your mind.
I’ve been a supporter of Mark’s for many years and have always been blown away by his willingness to engage thoughtful in any issue he is presented with. Most recently, Mark took a leadership role in defeating SOPA/PIPA and was one of the first Senators to come out publicly against PIPA. During this process, Mark and his staff put real effort into understanding the issues and, rather than sitting on the sidelines and seeing what would happen, leaned in, took a stand, and had a big impact helping shift the tide in the Senate against PIPA.
I believe the Boulder startup community is extremely lucky to have Mark Udall as one of our Senators. I don’t often make political appeals on this blog, but in this case I feel that it’s critical that we continue to have intelligent, thoughtful, and independently minded representatives who are willing to actually understand what is going on with issues, rather than succumb to lobbying pressures. Mark is one of the good guys – let’s make sure he knows we support him.
I’ll be at the BMOCA event all evening so it’s a chance to spend some time with me also if you’d like. I’ll make sure I’m available to anyone who shows up about anything that’s on your mind. So join me on June 17th to support Senator Mark Udall.
My partner Jason has a longer post up on Senate Bill 1933, but I’m supporting S. 1933, otherwise known as “Re-opening American Capital Markets To Emerging Growth Companies Act.”
In short, this act would allow for an IPO on-ramp that would minimize costly and burdensome regulation on smaller offerings. If you have contacts in the Senate, now is the time to let them know that you support it too.
After sleeping 13 hours on Friday night and then 14 hours last night it’s pretty clear that a week like last week isn’t sustainable for me. At brunch today, Amy guessed that I worked 80 hours between Monday and Friday, ran three days (after coming off a double long weekend where I did two 10 mile runs), travelled from Boston to NY and then NY to Boston late at night, and generally wore myself out.
I’m heading out for a 15 mile run in Boston and expect I’ll be garbage collecting all the random thoughts from the week. The backdrop in my world was dealing with SOPA/PIPA, which I’m glad is dead, for now. Based on all the rhetoric over the weekend, I have no doubt that it’ll be back soon as an issue and/or woven into some other bill that seems totally innocuous. Regardless, the experience around this over the last few months has impacted me pretty profoundly – both in my disdain for politics as usual, liars, and ass covering as well as my pride for grassroots leadership and the power of the Internet and the Web to get the word out and engage people.
I hope to spend zero minutes on this topic this upcoming week, although I put that in the fantasy category as I’m sure reality will interject itself. In the mean time, I encourage you to go take a look at a few more posts just to cement in your mind what is going on so you can be prepared for the next wave of it.
Joel Spolsky has two last things about SOPA/PIPA and then he will shut up. I hope he never does – he’s brilliant, articulate, and totally gets it. His two suggestions are to (1) use what we’ve learned to start lobbying for our own laws and (2) figure out a way to shift political ad dollars from TV to the web. It’s free to advertise on YouTube – let’s force it to be free to advertise on NBC, or at least so prohibitively expensive on a relative basis that it’s not worth it.
H.R. 1981 - Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 – has embedded in it an amendment that’ll have your internet service provider tracking all of your financial dealings online. And yes, the sponsor of this is Lamar Smith, the same guy who sponsored SOPA. I wonder how many more bills there are out there like this – I certainly have no time or bandwidth to deal with them since I’m trying to help create the future.
Does Online Piracy Hurt The Economy? A Look At The Numbers. Here is some empirical evidence in Forbes that it doesn’t.
If Congress wants jobs, it can’t want SOPA. Talking point #1 for SOPA/PIPA morphed into “piracy costs jobs.” Over the course of last week, there were many people who were polite against being against piracy (for example, I am), but I don’t know of one who said “but piracy actually costs jobs and I can prove it.” I’ve concluded the piracy costs jobs thing is classic talking point rhetoric – if we hear it enough times then it must be true. Wouldn’t it be ironic if there was actually net job growth based on the dynamics of the current content economy?
If you were involved in opposing SOPA/PIPA recently, thank you for your efforts. These were horrible bills at some many levels and they needed to be shut down. The cynic in me knows that this is far from over but for now I’m going to go for a run and try not to think about it too much.