FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 13, 1995
Contact: Steven Cherry
New York, NY
Are 20,000 phone calls a lot? 30,000? 50,000? They are if you're one of a
handful of Congressional staffers trying to field them. Tuesday, December
12th was the Internet's Day of Protest. A variety of net-activists and
telecommunications-related services exhorted the on-line community to call
a selected group of Senators and Representatives to declare their
opposition to the threat of Internet censorship. And call they did.
As the Senate members of the Telecommunications Reform conference
committee contemplated portions of legislation that would censor
"indecent" material on-line, their staffers were being overwhelmed with
phone calls. Senator Inouye's office said they were "getting lots and lots
of calls and faxes." Senator Lott's said they were "flooded with calls."
At Senator Stevens' office there were so many calls they couldn't keep
a complete tally.
At Senator Exon's office, the fax machine was "backed up." And at one
point, activists couldn't even get through to Senator Gorton's office to
ask. Exon is the Senator whose Communications Decency Act started the
nearly year-long struggle between those who would create special
regulations to restrict speech on-line (even, in certain instances,
private email between two individuals) to a greater extent than even
traditional broadcast media; regulations that, according to the ACLU and
many other civil liberties groups, will certainly be proven to be
unconstitutional if passed into law.
"We've never seen anything like it," said Stanton McCandish of the
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The EFF is one member of the on-line
coalition that has been fighting an array of censorship legislation since
this spring, when Senator Exon introduced his Communications Decency Act.
"We may have almost overwhelmed our provider," said Shabbir Safdar, head
of Voter's Telecommunications Watch (VTW). VTW is the organization that
organized the on-line coalition. Their on-line connectivity is provided by
Panix.com, a New York-area Internet service provider. "Panix has been
doing some maintenance work today, so it's hard to tell," Safdar
continued. "But we think it's actually made a dent in their connection
to the rest of the Net."
How many calls were actually made? No one can tell. For Leslie Miller, a
reporter for USA Today, it took much of the afternoon to get some counts
from Congressional staffers, and she couldn't get any report from the
Senate's Sergeant-At-Arms, the office nominally responsible for the
Senate's telephone system. VTW may be the only organization that can
really make an educated guess.
"In our Alerts we ask that people drop us an email note after they call,"
explained VTW board member Steven Cherry. "The message count peaked in the
late afternoon at over 70 per minute. Many of those were from people who
called several offices. By 7:30 P.M. (EST) we had gotten 14,000 messages.
By Wednesday morning the count was over 18,000. And of course there are
the people who called but didn't send us email. So all told, our very
rough guess is there were well over 50,000 phone calls and faxes made on
the one day."
"The Net is coming of age, politically," said Jerry Berman, Director of
the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), another member of the
on-line coalition. Safdar, of VTW, concurred, saying, "I think Washington
got the message today that there's a new grass-roots interest group
around, and we're going to be a big part of the 1996 elections."
In addition to the Day of Protest, rallies are scheduled on Thursday,
December 14th, in San Francisco and Seattle, and a protest will be held
that day at 2:00 in New York City.
The protest in New York will be held at the CyberCafe, at 273A Lafayette
St, New York NY, 10012. It will start at 2pm, Thurs December 12, 1995.
Press can call Steven Cherry at the number above for more info.
Voters Telecommunications Watch is a volunteer organization, concentrating
on legislation as it relates to telecommunications and civil liberties.
VTW publishes a weekly BillWatch that tracks relevant legislation as it
progresses through Congress. It publishes periodic Alerts to inform the
about immediate action it can take to protect its on-line civil liberties