Governments around the world are using cybersecurity and other fears to "cloak" efforts to crack down on political speech, Vint Cerf, known as one of the fathers of the Internet, said on Monday.
The tendency among tech advocates to highlight the role the Internet played in the Arab Spring has instilled fear of the Internet in regimes that are now taking a harder line, said Cerf, now a vice president at Google. Speaking at the Freedom to Connect conference, organized by Google, Mozilla, and the New America Foundation, among others, Cerf noted a contradiction between American officials' efforts to promote Internet freedom overseas, and domestic law enforcement and legislation aimed at cyberthreats and online piracy.
He pointed to proposed laws like the Stop Online Piracy Act, which faltered in Congress in January, and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which passed the House last month.
While those bills may have been drafted with good intentions, Cerf said CISPA, for example, did not include strong enough privacy protections, and the restrictions on cybersecurity information sharing in the bill "felt very unconstrained."
While CISPA made it past the House, the Internet community mobilized to block SOPA, which would have increased way the government and companies could go after pirated content on foreign websites. But the pressure that undermined support for SOPA can't be expected to work on every law seen to threaten Internet freedom, Cerf said.
"Part of the reason that the SOPA campaign was successful because this was an election year," he said. In 2013, or any other off-year, the "leverage" needed to pressure lawmakers will be different, Cerf said.