January 13th, 2012

My Call to Senator Schumer’s Office on PIPA: It’s So Much Worse Than I Thought

Today I called a Senator’s office for the first time.

First, let me say how fantastic it is that when you call the office, a real-live human picks up the phone and can speak to you. There’s no annoying menus, no transfers, no answering machines. Washington, please don’t ever change this.

I was calling mostly to find out why the Senator supports (and co-sponsored!) S.968, aka the PROTECT IP Act aka PIPA. Perhaps there was an argument I was missing — I know how myopic the tech world can be sometimes.

What I got was a reminder of how dangerous this legislation will be, for people who care about:

-the internet
-technology innovation
-freedom of speech
-startups and job creation
-facebook, tumblr, youtube, reddit, 4chan, and any other major site that touches user-generated content

OK so back to my phone call. The first question I asked was “why does the Senator support this legislation?”

The guy on the other end of the phone said: “well, he’s a co-sponsor so he’s not changing his position.”

He must have known why I was calling.

Asked the same question again. This time the reply I got this time was different: “Senator Schumer is in favor of censoring the internet.”

….whhhhhhat? Up until now, most of the statements from congresspeople have done that neat thing politicians do where they say words but don’t actually answer the question. They do the “censorship” dance very well – never say it out loud, but vote for the bill nonetheless. From what I can tell “anti-piracy” and “pro-censorship” are actually the same thing here, though politicians usually argue the former so as not to seem anti-first-amendment. No one has been brazen enough to drop the C-word without hesitation. But this dude apparently had no problem with it. I said again: “So you’re saying Senator Schumer is in favor of censoring the internet?”

“Yes.” He then backpedaled a bit, and mentioned that Schumer is in favor of censoring illegal activities on the internet. But still, the C-word.

I could hear the phone-answerer smacking his lips in the background, grinning and thinking: ALL YOUR CAT PHOTOS ARE BELONG TO US. on a centrally controlled website owned by Viacom.

Next stop: To Kill a Mockingbird no longer allowed in public schools. You think I’m getting hysterical. I am not.

Moving on.

My other objective was to find out the position held by the average constituent who supports PIPA. It was my impression that PIPA was mostly written by well-funded lobbyists and that there aren’t that many Joe Six-Packs who truly support it. But surely they must be out there! So I asked him this specifically. He said: “I haven’t spoken to any consituents who support it.” He clarified that he couldn’t articulate what the average constituent supporter thinks because he hasn’t spoken with any.

I am thinking it is not this guy’s first day on the job, and when I asked how many people had called to oppose he said “a whole lot.”

To summarize: the Senator’s office has received a bunch of calls from taxpayers who oppose the bill, but anecdotally from this dude, zero calls from those who support it.

And yet, the Senator seems content, and unwilling to reconsider his position or meet with the opposition.

Sigh. While I understand that government officials should not be expected to be experts on every single industry, we are past the point where the internet should be considered a stand-alone industry.

Apparently this isn’t something that is obvious to our Senators, so please take the time to call and let them know.

Thanks for reading. Figured I would include some bullets on what you can do if interested. It’s kinda past the point of online petitions at this point:

1. If you live in New York, call both the DC and NYC offices of Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand.

Phone numbers:

Not sure what to say? I wrote you a script:

“Hello, my name is _________ and I live in ________ (say your ZIP CODE, they need this for their “reports”). I am calling to voice my concern for S.968, the Protect-IP act which apparently Senator (Schumer/Gillibrand) supports. I am extremely opposed to the bill in its entirety and would like to suggest that the Senator reconsider his/her position on the issue.”

That should be enough to get the point across, and make sure that they take down your name and zip code. You can talk about why you personally oppose it (kills innovation, serious technical implications, reddit/youtube/tumblr, the fact that the vast majority of technical innovators have come out against it, etc.)

2. Read these two posts about the technical implications of the bill. They are a fantastic overview: http://j.mp/ynYbDK and http://bit.ly/t9j0xV.

3. If you live in New York City on the 18th, come to this New York Tech Meetup.

4. Some more great background reading is Michael Arrington’s piece from June 2010, which is incredibly relevant to this argument: “Here’s How The Government Can Fix Silicon Valley: Leave It Alone“.
Update #1: asolove on Hacker News pointed out that “the people who answer your calls are (likely unpaid) high school or college interns, not “staffers.” They are not the people who research or discuss policy issues, they likely are not very aware of the candidate’s legislative positions…they are not making official statements.”

I would like to point out that this is not a post about Schumer’s “official statements” on this issue, rather simply what I experienced when calling the Senator’s office. I would also like to note that as far as I am concerned, if you pick up the phone at a Senator’s office you speak for the Senator.
Update #2: I spoke on the phone with someone from Schumer’s office who read my post (thx, HN). The caller clarified their position, and I’d like to include a few points here:

1. It’s not just Hollywood – another big issue that they are trying to combat here is piracy related to physical products that are sold by overseas websites: counterfeit chips, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, etc.
2. DMCA is incredibly effective, but only for the companies that actually comply with it.
3. There have been some changes made to the bill already that take into account the concerns of the tech community. For example, yesterday one of the Senate sponsors said “he will recommend that the the Senate gives DNS blacklisting “more study” before moving ahead”.
4. The tech community is very important to New York State, and so are all the other industries here who support the bill (entertainment, manufacturing), and while the outcry from the opposition has been heard, it is also pretty recent. Back when they were researching the bill, they felt there was a balance of interest between those who were for and against it.

Anyway, I felt like it was important to include this here. I think the bill is garbage and dangerous and legitimate “censorship”, but I very much appreciate the call and the explanation.

Share This Post:


  • Nathan Friemel

    Well, representative Democracy was fun while it lasted.

  • http://innonate.com/ Nate Westheimer

    Amanda, I hope you and join your fellow NY Tech Meetup members at the Emergency NY Tech Meetup next Wednesday: http://nytm.org/sos/

  • Patrick Baggett

    There you have it, folks.

  • http://twitter.com/Brock_toon Ian Williams

    I'm fine with this and good for you. But this touches on an annoyance of mine. You say this is the first time you've called a Senator? Well that's the problem. I'm seeing all of this sturm and drang about SOPA/PIPA from people who have been, at best, marginally disengaged.

    If you're marginally disengaged, if you vote every four years and call it a day, this is what you get. Don't wait until you're in your mid-20s to call. Call every time a crappy bill gets put forth. Vote in off year elections. Vote in local elections. Consider running yourself. Get GOOD people in.

  • brad clawsie

    its time to rethink centralized DNS. its just too attractive to arbitrary authority

  • http://ryan.10e.us/ Ryan T

    The last number (ending in -6452) should be -6542.

  • http://amandapeyton.com amanda peyton

    Thanks I will update.

  • Anonymous

    This guy's been in office since 1975.  You can't blame that on Amanda.  He's received a lot of votes in that time and nobody's fielded much opposition, it would appear.

  • http://philtoronto.com Phil Toronto

    I'll see you there.

  • sumerian

    “It’s not just Hollywood – another big issue that they are trying to
    combat here is piracy related to physical products that are sold by
    overseas websites: counterfeit chips, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods,
    etc.” Did he say pharmaceuticals or “cheap legal generics” ? I have a notion what the gorging drug corporations really want.

  • Conor Dockry

    Your first mistake was believing that politicians, Democrats especially, care about anything more beyond acquiring as much power and control for government as they can.  Start from this premise when analyzing any policy decision and you'll understand their point of view more clearly.  It really is that simple, as the comments from the staffer your talked to illustrated plainly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mac.senour Mac Senour

    Very well written, thanks for the post

  • mindctrl

    It never existed, yet most people think it did/does. Definitely a testament to the quality of the doctrinal systems.

  • http://twitter.com/TheNextCorner Dennis Goedegebuure

    More so, I can buy counterfeit goods on almost every corner of the street in San Francisco, but no government agency is trying to stop the selling of fake SF Giants or 49ers merchandize.
    Why is there so much pressure about the foreign websites offering counterfeit, while street corners are full with the merchandize itself!

  • http://twitter.com/komiska viktoriana

    toldya SOPA / PIPA is Fahrenheit 451

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=696211650 Jason Tweed

    Well Put. I had a similar experience with Congressman Tom Marino regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act, the House version of the same bill.

  • Chuck McManis

    EXACTLY. Ok so PIPA is a wake up call, the guys in washington can screw you over if you don't pick wisely. Glad you to have you on board Amanda, now your next step is to get him 'de-elected' and really if you can get 3 or 4 of your friends who have also never called a Senator or tried to figure out what someone's position was prior to voting for them, this problem will 'go away.' We have to tools to completely replace the government every 6 years. Use it.

  • Livearevolution

    i just called, yeah, the guy seems like he new nothing about how the internet works or even the bill itself.

  • http://golfreviewscaddie.com/ Walt Goshert

    “They” don't want well-informed, critical thinking citizens. Search YouTube and watch George Carlin's “The American Dream”. Schummer is a classic special interest puppet … how do these people sleep at night?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RBWTCBMVPCJWN2OAAWOQRZCJLA Pat

    Well, at least you GOT an answer. Any time and every time I call my Congressional representatives I get the exact same answer. (And, yes, I've called on this legislation.) The answer I get is “Senator/Congressman has not said what his position on this issue is yet.” Even when they're voting on it that day, apparently my representatives from here in Florida 1st Congressional district (Congressman Jeff Miller and Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio) never make up their minds until they actually have to vote on the floor. Or that's what I'm supposed to be stupid enough to believe. What I actually believe is they don't want to bother having their staff explain their actual positions to their constituents because they don't think we have any right to know beforehand how they're going to vote. So I never know what their positions are until after they've cast their votes.

  • http://twitter.com/ericschiller Eric Schiller

    In piles of money.

  • http://twitter.com/TeachingAway Eric Adler

    “Piracy related to counterfeit chips, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods”???

    Really Chuck? 
    Don't spam in my blog and call it web2.0. 

    Now, I am all for strong IP protections. But we can incentivize creative works without doling out unilateral bowdlerization rights.

    Also, whats up AP? its nice to see an old neighbor on the tubes.

  • http://twitter.com/Brock_toon Ian Williams

    I'm not blaming any one person by any means. I'm blaming the entire electorate. I'm immensely glad that this is serving as a wake up call to people but everybody needs to KEEP VOTING/CALLING/MARCHING. If you don't, there's another SOPA waiting for next year.

    Pin these folks down. Make them sweat. If voter participation stays at 40% on average, why are we shocked that they don't represent the majority? The majority don't even vote, much less vote in an informed fashion. Why would Schumer's office worry about the calls when half the people calling aren't going to vote in a primary against him?

  • http://twitter.com/GNULinuxMadman blackbelt_jones

    Gonna tweet the hell outta this bitch.

  • http://twitter.com/GNULinuxMadman blackbelt_jones

    1998, actually.  He finally unseated Alfonse D'Amato, a Republican of whom someone once said “After shaking hands with him, you feel like count8ing your fingers.

    Therein, of course, is the problem.  He keeps running against Republicans, and as long as he does, I'm probably going to vote for him.

  • http://twitter.com/GNULinuxMadman blackbelt_jones

    Thanks for scolding people for getting involved in politics.  I'm guessing you're in human resources?

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    “while the outcry from the opposition has been heard, it is also pretty recent.”

    How exactly is that relevant?

    “Back when they were researching the bill, they felt there was a balance of interest between those who were for and against it.”

    That's nice. Who were they asking?

  • http://amandapeyton.com amanda peyton

    The point the staffer was making is that it is only recently that they have received massive push-back on a constituent level. They are getting a ton of calls about it, so that's good. 

    As for who they spoke with, I tried to get details about this and was told that it was groups from all over the state.  I am thinking representatives from labor unions (specifically the AFL-CIO) were pretty vocal (as a “pro” voice) as were entertainment/media lobbyists.

  • Xtme2005

    Hysteria and Paranoia any chance your a Ron Paul supporter? Usually, those 2 things apply. There is nothing PIPA that threatens anyone. Obviously, the people who feel threatened have something to hide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jay-Palm/100002849322496 Jay Palm

    He is your liberal not mine. He will win in a landslide even if he rapes & kills.
    He's for abortion you see.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    I guess I was just wondering if they felt that the opposition they're hearing doesn't count as much because it's happened so recently. I mean, WTF, people can't respond to bills they haven't heard about.

  • jonathanzacharias


  • Dhammond

    Is it possible that the guy you were talking with just disagrees with Schumer on his SOPA position, and that could explain the tone of the responses you got? That's the impression I gathered from your quotes. It's as if he was saying, “Yeah, Schumer wants to censor the Internet. The jerk.”

  • Christopher Lord

    Laws against murder are incredibly effective, but only for the individuals that actually comply with it.

  • Hub

    Kelleigh Nelson <radiok@bellsouth.net> wrote today:

    On Jan. 18th there is going to be an all-out strike on the
    Internet. Websites across the Internet are going dark in protest of the Internet
    censorship bills in Congress, SOPA and PIPA.

    Some of the biggest sites in the world are participating:
    Reddit, Mozilla. And some others may join (e.g. A leading micro-blogging
    platform and a popular collaboratively-written encyclopedia), but they need a
    nudge. If we can get them to join this will be EPIC.
    Ask the biggest sites on the Internet to
    join the strike. Click here.
    If you're on Facebook or Twitter, please use these links to
    share this:

    Thank You!
    -Donny and the rest of the Fight for the Future

  • http://profiles.google.com/lauriebidaho Laurie Barrera

    ah, but what is the real language in the bill>? did you real in in its entireity?

  • Fellow Traveler

    The people in Congress have no respect for our rights.

    When the Constitution was written, the House had 1 representative for every 30,000 people, and the Senators were appointed by their respective state legislatures. Back then, the people and the States both had representation in Congress.


  • http://www.facebook.com/terrence.a.davis1 Terrence Andrew Davis

    God is just.  The holocaust is a mystery, but God is just.  He told me you are calling Him lazy if you don't think the world is perfectly just.  God says, “unused hardheartedness bringing dare VERSIONS arts whitherto healedst is exhortation continued predestination Just softening reproach stipend notorious outrages moon harmoniseth “

  • http://twitter.com/DocWebster Mike Mixer

    It's called sociopathy, works better than Ambien

  • http://twitter.com/DocWebster Mike Mixer

    It'll never happen because any system that decentralizes DNS takes power away from the the spies that are looking at you

  • http://twitter.com/DocWebster Mike Mixer

    There is no such thing as representative democracy. We are a Representative Republic, Democracy is the tyranny of the majority which the founding fathers despised  and labored mightily to short circuit with both houses of Congress, separation of powers, the electoral college, and the Bill of Rights. Don't burn down the whole institution because being heard is difficult, rejoice in the fact that it's just as difficult for truly asinine prejudices to be passed into law as it is for truly asinine legislation to be defeated

  • http://twitter.com/Brock_toon Ian Williams

    Hi, that's not what I'm doing. I'm saying “Sweet. Do more. Don't stop. Use it as a springboard with the recognition that this is the tail end of a long process of disengagement.”

    If all you care about is SOPA and we all go home once it's derailed (and it will be, either now or through SCOTUS), then it's back with another name in four years.

    As for voting D, I get that. But I also 100% guarantee that if Silicon Valley takes money and backs candidates who primary pro-SOPA types, they can knock them out. It'd be an uphill battle but it can happen. These aren't fiefdoms for life here. Primary these people. Set up PACs (not YOU, but the Valley).

    Setting aside moral questions about the monstrous influence of money in politics and recognizing the reality, there is zero (ZERO) reason for Big Tech to be getting their asses kicked on this. They create several magnitudes more jobs and pull in several magnitudes more money. They just don't use it wisely on the Hill. If the tech sector wants to be recognized as big kids now, and they should be, they have to act like it. That includes hiring good lobbyists and making sure a bunch of old farts in the studios and major labels don't eat them for lunch. The only reason this is happening is because Entertainment is playing the game like old hands.

  • reneemjones

    He did not say anything about controlling the inevitable abuse of the system by big media? At least he was honest enough to admit he believes in censorship, distrusts the free market, and abhors the first amendment.  Too bad he was NOT honest enough to admit the REAL reason for his support: bribes.

  • reneemjones

    But truly asinine prejudices are passed into law all the time.  ”Defence” of marriage is one of the first to come to mind.

  • mtim2474

    We can all thank Anonymous for this.  By “exposing corruption” (which in anonymous-speak means releasing innocent people's credit card numbers and other personal information, attacking police officers, etc.), Government is forced into a situation where the Internet must be controlled.  The Internet as we know it today will soon be a memory and replaced with one that precludes any kind of anonymity, is more expensive, and highly taxed.

  • http://amandapeyton.com amanda peyton

    Heyyy Eric!  Thanks for the comment and nice to see you round the interwebs.

  • WTF?

    WTF is god? Moron

  • HalibetLector

    We're burning down the whole institution because a Representative Republic relies on the elected officials to speak of behalf of the people who elected him. At this point, Schumer isn't speaking for his constituents, he's speaking for himself. Or more likely, the companies who give him money. And before you say we can just vote for somebody else, that won't matter. I don't know of any political candidate in the country who doesn't take money from large businesses to fund his campaign.

    Well, Representative Republic was fun while it lasted.

  • Anonymous

    “In office” is different than “in the senate”.  Thanks for playing.

    And if you vote blindly based on party lines, you deserve what you get.

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