Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, describes himself as an "Internet defender."
When the technology community rallied together in opposition of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Rep. Issa was at the front lines of Congress fighting to kill the bill. And as a former electronics company CEO, he's one of the few Congressman who seem to "get it" when it comes to technology (Fun fact: Rep. Issa lent his voice to the alarm system for the ultra-sleek Dodge Viper).
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Mashable spoke with Rep. Issa about his crusade against SOPA, his alternative plan for protecting intellectual property (the OPEN Act, hosted by the Madison Project) and what he sees on the horizon for technology and politics.
Good morning Chairman Issa, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. First question: What do you credit most with the defeat of SOPA?
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"Time. More than anything else, the time it took for Wikipedia to gets its board to agree to the blackout and the momentum built that led to 7,000 websites responding (to SOPA). The reason I gave you that answer is because we don't always have time. Time was the enemy of the people who tried to rush SOPA through the House.
"We started with four people who were adamantly against (SOPA). We lost every early vote, but we won time for the Internet (community) to react. In our business, sometimes we have to brag about our defeat. We lost every single vote in the markup, but we took days of their time -- and that became one of our tactics to help let people know just how radical this bill was."
Do you think the tech community can rally once again if it feels threatened by a new piece of legislation?
"It can, but you don't always get the time to figure out the impact of a bill. There are steps being taken by a number of technology companies to hire lobbyists and have more eyes and ears in D.C. to find out what's being earmarked into bills at the last minute when there really may only be a few hours' warning (before a technology bill is passed)."
Tell us about the OPEN Act, your alternative intellectual property bill.
"I think every country has a right to protect its internal intellectual property. If you go to Russia and you try to stop piracy of American movies, that's beyond the ability of U.S. law. If I hold a copyright in the U.S., I should have protections against internal piracy and external piracy. Our courts can already protect us against internal piracy.
"The only thing that needed to be addressed by SOPA is this: What if [people in another] country were pirating from the U.S.? The OPEN Act applies only to [people in other countries] that have been found to be violating U.S. copyright after a trial. Under [the OPEN Act], after that trial it would enable other means to be used but not the draconian means, like DNS blocking, that SOPA called for.
"Our view is that if you follow the money and prevent companies like Mastercard, Visa and PayPal from allowing the sales of pirated content, it doesn't close off the Internet but it does stop these foreign traffickers."
The debate around SOPA and other technology bills doesn't divide neatly along party lines. Do you think technology issues are, in a way, bipartisan?
"Intellectual property and how we deal with that is always bipartisan ... Sen. Wyden (D-Ore.) was particularly helpful in this entire debate, he brought his own version [of an intellectual property bill] to the Senate floor. [Rep. Jared] Polis [D-Colo.] was great to have as somebody else who knew the Internet and what it could do."
You put the draft version of the OPEN Act online for the public to read and comment upon. Do you think that kind of transparency is the future of politics and technology?
"I do believe it is the future. Congress has to be willing to fund it. The Madison project had to be done at an external site because that kind of interactive exchange isn't allowed under the House's firewall rule, so we went to an outside storage facility.
"We don't like to call the people who make the rules in the House and the Senate "Luddites," but they're pretty close. They're very ultra-conservative on what (new technologies) they're willing to adopt. Congress only went to Outlook Web a year ago -- and it was still only a belt-and-suspenders type of access ... our whole infrastructure is built around not getting hacked rather than getting access.
"The technology systems in the House are quite archaic, and if you're dealing with members that have been around for a long time, it's harder to adopt new platforms than if you're in the private sector and more comfortable with new platforms. A big part of the House's bandwidth is actually used for an off-site redundancy, which duplicates every one of our sites for Outlook and all of our servers. We use so much bandwidth for that, I'm still fighting to get (Voice over IP) telephones installed in the House."
Chairman Issa, thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to speak with Mashable today.
"Thank you. My message to the 7,000 websites that blacked out last January and other members of the tech community: How would you react if you only had 24 hours to react to a bill? There's no system that would guarantee they would know and react in that short a period."
This story originally published on Mashable here.