SAN FRANCISCO--"Our freedoms are under attack, and we are unarmed," said Howard Rheingold, author of Virtual Communities, at a rally that attracted about 500 members of the online community to San Francisco's South Park. That notion of freedom under attack became a theme for those gathered here to protest House passage last week of the Exon Amendment to the Telecommunications Reform Act.
Enthusiastic Exon opponents held signs reading "Uncle Sam Out of My Home Page," "Stop Cyber Fascism," and "Long Live Freedom of Speech on the Net." One rally organizer said the issue has succeeded in bringing together a variety of Net users. "The rally has made people aware of what's going on," said John Gilmore, cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We've shown that the Internet affects the whole community; it's not just for geeks."
One rally speaker said the issue has raised such ire because online users are passionate about the Net. "A lot of people really care about the Net, probably more than congressmen," said Todd Lappin, editor of Wired magazine. Simultaneous rallies to protest the Exon Amendment took place today in Seattle and New York City.
Most of the speakers, including Mike Godwin, legal counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the government shouldn't have an "opinion" of what the Internet community needs because half of them have never logged on. "Congress is ignorant about the First Amendment," Godwin shouted. "We elect people because we hope they will act rationally. I emphasize the word hope."
Godwin also cited the recent ban by America Online of the word breast. "Don't be angry at AOL, because they apologized and are now using the word; be angry at Congress because they make companies like AOL think those words are wrong," he said.
Godwin was addressing Uncle Sam when he said, "You are threatening to destroy the Net, the first medium of mankind that provides mass communication to every citizen," said Godwin. "If you pass this, we will remember, and we will vote you out."
Some organizations are taking legal action. "The ACLU has pledged to file a lawsuit in Congress and if we are unsuccessful, we will sue them to represent you," said Dorothy Ehrlick, executive director of the ACLU. "This medium has the opportunity to make us a more just and equal society--they can't take that away," she said.