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Cute Cat Guards Freedom Of The Internet

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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A cat signal by the Internet Defense League will warn about the next SOPA

Last weekend saw the creation of the Internet Defense League (IDL) – an organisation that seeks to protect the freedom of the Internet through a network of signals, warning its members when governments try to pass yet another censorship law.

The League was launched by the non-profit organisation Fight for the Future, which took active part in protests against SOPA and PIPA – proposed anti-piracy laws in the US. And the signal they chose for this serious mission is the logo of a cat.

Cute cat league

The IDL has been inspired by the Internet black-outs that were used as a form of protest against SOPA and PIPA in January. A total of 115,000 websites participated in this “strike”, including Wikipedia, WordPress, Tumblr and Google.

As its purpose, the League aspires to “mobilise the planet to defend the Internet from bad laws and monopolies”. It was the brainchild of Tiffiniy Cheng, head of the Fight for the Future group. The League’s formal launch is planned in two weeks time to coincide with the US Congress’ return to session.

Any owner of a website, blog or even a YouTube channel or Twitter account can join IDL, and the registration is free and simple. Once registered, concerned citizens will be notified “if something comes up” and will be offered to take “some basic actions”.

IDL offers a bit of code that members can add to their sites (or receive code by email at the time of a campaign) that can be triggered in the case of a crisis. Once that happens, a call-to-action will be issued to all participating sites, such as a banner urging users to sign a petition or call their elected representatives. In the worst case scenario, a “blackout” of the site will be suggested.

“With the combined reach of our websites and social networks, we can be massively more effective than any one organisation,” says the League.

As mentioned above, the IDL has chosen a cute cat as its “bat signal”, a direct reference to Ethan Zuckerman’s cute cat theory of digital activism. According to the theory, Internet activists are able to exploit channels generally used to exchange “cute cat pictures” and other trivial content because closing these channels would cause discontent amongst the general population.

IDL has already seen support from Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. Other notable members of the League include WordPress, image hosting network Imgur and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

For the foreseeable future, IDL will focus on defeating CISPA (the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protect Act) and ACTA, as it returns to European Parliament for a vote in June.

The organisation has issued a call for developers to join the project and help build the flexible JavaScript tools that make the Defense League tick.

While blackouts by major websites might capture the attention of politicians, several commentators have doubted the usefulness of the petition approach.

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