Reddit co-founder sharpens knife for CISPA fight

Aiming to get the chiefs at Google, Facebook and Twitter on board against upcoming U.S. cybersecurity legislation, Alexis Ohanian calls them on the phone and gets some amusing results.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in a video urging tech companies to stand up against CISPA. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

As Congress readies for what's sure to be a heated debate over the controversial cybersecurity bill CISPA, leaders in the tech community are speaking out.

Unsurprisingly, a known activist for Internet freedom and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian is one of those leading the charge. In a comical video released today in conjunction with digital rights advocate group Fight for the Future, Ohanian calls on tech CEOs to join his cause (see below).

"I'm hoping all of these tech companies take the stand that their privacy policies matter. Their users' privacy matters," Ohanian said in the video. "And no legislation like CISPA should take that away."

The video shows Ohanian calling Google and asking the operator if he could speak with CEO Larry Page. After being on hold for nearly an hour, he is told by the operator that there is no Larry Page at Google. Then she says Page isn't around. Apparently, Ohanian tried to call Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and had similar results.

Ohanian ends the video by calling on U.S. residents to sign an anti-CISPA petition. "Since we couldn't get a hold of the deciders, maybe you can. Sign the petition, get on the social media, because this is what defeated SOPA and PIPA and this is what will defeat CISPA," he says. "Internet freedom and Internet privacy matters."

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, is controversial because it overrules all existing federal and state laws by saying "notwithstanding any other provision of law," companies may share information "with any other entity, including the federal government." This language has alarmed dozens of advocacy groups, including the American Library Association, the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Reporters Without Borders.

A version of CISPA was approved by Congress last year but did not receive the vote in Senate. Undaunted, Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and influential chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, reintroduced CISPA last month. It's supported by AT&T, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Verizon, Intel, IBM, Comcast, and industry trade associations. Rogers said his legislation is necessary to head off cyberattacks from China and other sources.

While Ohanian contacted Facebook in the video released today, the social network already announced last month that it would no longer support CISPA. Despite having withdrawn support, however, Facebook has not stated opposition to the legislation. Google and Twitter have not made public statements regarding their stance on the bill either.

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee held a closed-door markup of CISPA today and a full congressional vote could come as soon as next week. Stay tuned to CNET for more information on today's meeting.